Florida State has been on an incredible run this season, as evidenced by a 13-0 record, a No. 1 ranking and a matchup with Auburn for all the marbles Jan. 6 in the BCS National Championship.
On the offensive side of the football, freshman quarterback Jameis Winston—the school's third Heisman Trophy winner—directs an attack that is currently second in the country in points per game (53.0) and fifth in total yards (529.4), plus FSU's 90 touchdowns lead the nation. Defensively, senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and Co. are the stingiest unit on the scoreboard (10.7 points allowed) and against the pass (152.0 yards allowed) on a per-game basis, with their 17 TDs allowed tying Alabama for the fewest in FBS.
The Seminoles, by the way, have played one more game than the Crimson Tide.
Fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher has now emerged from the considerable shadow cast by his predecessor, two-time national champion Bobby Bowden, as the 'Noles finally played like a program loaded with 4- and 5-star signees—there were no head-scratching losses to an undermanned Wake Forest team or an outclassed Virginia squad. Say what you will about a relatively weak schedule, but aside from a spirited effort Sept. 28 by Boston College in Chestnut Hill, no opponent managed to stay within 27 points once the final gun had been fired.
With a week to go before the Garnet and Gold suit up opposite the SEC-champion Tigers in Pasadena, here are 13 particularly memorable moments we witnessed in 2013, one from each of Florida State's baker's dozen of victories.
Florida State 41, Pittsburgh 13 (Sept. 2)
The Panthers started strong and drove all the way down the field on their opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead, but Winston responded in the opening quarter with the first of his 38 touchdown passes on the season: a 24-yard beauty to junior tight end Nick O'Leary. Showing the savvy of a fifth-year senior, the 19-year-old felt pressure from the right and slid to his left, saw the free safety vacate the middle of the field and launched a perfect throw down the hash mark before O'Leary had even made his break to daylight.
Not only did Winston have the prototypical size and arm talent necessary to be a difference-maker at the game's most important position, but he also quickly proved to possess the schematic understanding and mental awareness usually set aside for the all-time greats.
Florida State 62, Nevada 7 (Sept. 14)
A disappointment for two years considering the raw physical ability he brings to the table, junior Karlos Williams was switched from safety to running back and given third-string duties behind junior ball-carriers Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. The 6'1", 223-pounder responded with a 65-yard touchdown blastoff in the third quarter—on his first career carry, no less—to push the advantage to 31-7.
Williams seemingly became a bigger part of the game plan week after week, to the point where he's expected to be first relief for Freeman off the bench in the title game ahead of Wilder.
Florida State 54, Bethune-Cookman 6 (Sept. 21)
With the overmatched Wildcats putting together an impressive drive to start the game, senior linebacker Telvin Smith put an end to any Appalachian State-like thoughts by intercepting a pass and returning it 68 yards for the initial points. BCU didn't dent the scoreboard until the midway point of the third quarter, when it was already 40-0 and the Seminoles had fielded second- and third-teamers.
A linebacker in a safety's body, Smith went on to be a first-team All-ACC pick and presently projects as a second- or third-round selection in the NFL draft.
Florida State 48, Boston College 34 (Sept. 28)
With the game all knotted up at 17 and FSU in the middle of a dogfight it didn't anticipate, Winston closed the first-half festivities by connecting with senior receiver Kenny Shaw on a 55-yard touchdown strike to give his team an unexpected lead heading into the locker room. Winston evaded two pass-rushers and got popped in the mouth by a third just before letting go of the football, as it landed safely in the arms of Shaw behind one-on-one coverage.
The 'Noles went on to outscore the Eagles 14-10 in the third quarter and then 10-7 in the fourth to escape an upset bid at Alumni Stadium.
Florida State 63, Maryland 0 (Oct. 5)
With the Terrapins undefeated and ranked 25th in the country, due in large part to dual-threat senior quarterback C.J. Brown leading the ACC in total offense at the time, an FSU defense that looked vulnerable seven days prior at BC would be put to the test. But Brown ended up taking more punches at Doak Campbell Stadium than he threw, as he was sidelined in the second quarter with a concussion—senior defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel hit him high, while senior linebacker Dan Hicks hit him low.
The Terps were held to 234 total yards and never sniffed the AP poll for the rest of the season.
Florida State 51, Clemson 14 (Oct. 19)
Arguably the biggest showdown in conference history couldn't have started better for the Seminoles, as a 22-yard touchdown pass from Winston to sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin and a 28-yard field goal from freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo resulted in a quick 10-0 lead. If Memorial Stadium was relatively quiet then, it was downright silent following a 37-yard fumble return to paydirt by sophomore defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. on the ensuing Tigers possession.
A would-be brawl turned into a ho-hum beatdown, with Winston performing like a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd struggling like a wide-eyed freshman.
Florida State 49, North Carolina State 17 (Oct. 26)
A letdown would have been forgivable considering the mental energy expended the week before in Death Valley, but instead the 'Noles sprinted out to a ridiculous 35-0 advantage in the first quarter against the overwhelmed Wolfpack. Winston fired TD tosses to Benjamin, O'Leary and junior receiver Rashad Greene, while both Williams and Freeman found the end zone on the ground.
FSU extended the lead to 42-0 in the second frame and put it on cruise control the rest of the way, with myriad backups and reserves again seeing considerable action after intermission.
Florida State 41, Miami 14 (Nov. 2)
Freeman, a Miami native determined to harass his hometown Hurricanes every chance he got, scored the last of his three touchdowns on a 12-yard scamper with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter. While UM hung with the Seminoles for the better part of two-and-a-half periods, Freeman's hat trick pushed FSU's edge to 35-14 to essentially put away the bitter state rival for good.
The 5'9", 203-pounder only averaged 3.4 yards per carry on the ground but continually moved the chains and added a team-leading 98 yards on six grabs out of the backfield.
Florida State 59, Wake Forest 3 (Nov. 9)
FSU's offense put on a fireworks display in the first quarter, producing touchdown runs by Wilder and Freeman and a TD catch by Benjamin, but it was the Seminole D that stole the show in the second frame. Freshman cornerback Nate Andrews returned an interception 56 yards for a score, and then freshman safety Jalen Ramsey visited the painted area courtesy of a 23-yard fumble return to make it 35-0—the two plays happened on back-to-back offensive snaps by the Demon Deacons.
The 'Noles were starting to feel every bit as scary on defense as they'd been all season long on offense, limiting Wake to eight first downs, 166 total yards and an anemic 2.6 yards per play.
Florida State 59, Syracuse 3 (Nov. 16)
As if the three-headed monster of Freeman, Wilder and Williams wasn't enough for opponents on the ground, freshman receiver Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield took a toss sweep from Winston in the first quarter and weaved his way on a crazy 74-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 less than five minutes into the contest. The rout was on, as the 'Noles led 28-0 after one, 38-0 after two and 59-0 after three—the 'Cuse booted a 32-yard field goal in the final stanza to avoid being blanked.
Auburn has more than likely watched that play on film several times and dedicated some practice reps to help defend it if Whitfield happens to line up behind Winston at Rose Bowl Stadium.
Florida State 80, Idaho 14 (Nov. 23)
Freshman linebacker E.J. Levenberry, a potential star in Tallahassee relegated to mop-up duty most of 2013, intercepted a Vandals pass and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter. Once Aguayo split the uprights on the extra point, the Seminoles had cracked the 80-point barrier for the first time ever.
With the likes of Levenberry and fellow freshmen Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas on the roster, the 'Noles appear to be loaded at the linebacker position for the foreseeable future.
Florida State 37, Florida 7 (Nov. 30)
The Seminoles woke up from an early 3-0 deficit in the second quarter when Winston connected with Shaw on a skinny post for 27 improbable yards on 3rd-and-26, but it was four snaps later when the hated Gators began to realize they were in a heap of trouble. Winston found Benjamin over the middle and watched in amazement as the 6'5", 234-pounder bounced off a handful of UF defenders on his way to the end zone and a 7-3 lead.
It was the first of three TDs for Benjamin, as he wrapped up his afternoon with nine catches for an eye-popping 212 yards—and he should have had even more since he dropped one or two easy ones.
Florida State 45, Duke 7 (Dec. 7)
With 2:38 remaining in the third quarter and FSU already comfortably ahead 31-0, Winston put one last highlight on tape for Heisman Trophy voters when he hurdled into the end zone on a 17-yard scoring scramble. While the pride of Hueytown High School in Bessemer, Ala., was picked off twice by the Blue Devils, he threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns to bring his season totals to 3,820 and 38, respectively—a week later he was awarded the game's most coveted individual honor by a healthy margin.
The Seminoles wrapped up a spot in the national championship game as the lone unbeaten in the land, with an unprecedented 14-0 record and third crystal football on the line next Monday in prime time.
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