People can debate the strength of Florida State's schedule all the want, but there's no disputing the fact that the Seminoles have crushed everything in their path this season like some kind of giant Japanese movie monster. On Saturday night, Duke found itself in Kaiju's path of destruction in the ACC championship game. Florida State overcame a relatively slow start and never looked back, winning 45-7 in impressive fashion.
It didn't seem as if the tumult surrounding Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston -- between Heisman talk and the announcement last Thursday that he wouldn’t be charged in a sexual assault investigation -- had any effect on him against the Blue Devils.
Duke delivered some hard hits and showed some good schemes, and coach David Cutcliffe's game plan worked early on. But Florida State’s physical dominance eventually took over the game. Winston wasn't perfect -- he threw two interceptions -- but he still completed 19-of-32 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Winston has thrown for 300 or more yards in seven games, and Saturday marked the eighth time this season that he has thrown for at least three scores.
The freshman all but locked the Heisman Trophy with his performance in this game. Winston and the Seminoles work seamlessly together. The sheer volume of NFL-caliber players on both sides of the ball gives him the confidence to play aggressively, and when he's on his game it allows every Florida State player -- the linemen, the skill players, the defensive players -- to take chances as well.
Seminoles defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has also helped the team's overall aggressiveness. Replacing Mark Stoops, Pruitt came from Alabama and his philosophy was to get Florida State back to basics. The Seminoles are so athletic, so strong, so physical and so fast that they sometimes don’t need to think to make plays. They just need to act and let their instincts take over. That’s led to a bushel of turnovers and sparkling performances throughout the season.
Florida State entered the game against the Blue Devils ranked first in the country in scoring defense (11.0 points per game), and was also first in defensive S&P+ on Football Outsiders. Beatdown after beatdown resonated all over the country, including with the school administration in Tallahassee. Coach Jimbo Fisher is reportedly getting a hefty pay raise next week, and he deserves it.
For Duke, this shouldn't be a bittersweet ending. The Blue Devils ran into a remorseless scoring machine on Saturday, and their blowout loss shouldn’t diminish the year they’ve had. Duke's 10 wins were the most in school history, and the Blue Devils will also be playing in back-to-back bowls for the first time in their history.
Cutcliffe has a vision for where Duke is supposed to be, and he’s right on track. The Blue Devils might never have a season like the one the Seminoles are having right now, but that’s okay.
Florida State has earned its shot at the BCS title, and now we know who they’ll probably be facing. Auburn looked impressive in its win over Missouri in the SEC championship. Everyone and anyone associated with that conference had already prepared a statement about why the Tigers deserved to play in the national title game, but they won't need it. Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and Auburn is all but assured to be No. 2 when the final BCS numbers are released.