WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The only thing standing between surging Florida State and another trip to the ACC championship game is depleted Wake Forest.
Clinching another trip to Charlotte would be nice, but the third-ranked Seminoles are thinking much bigger than that.
Florida State (8-0, 6-0) can wrap up the Atlantic Division title and claim their third league title game berth in four years with a victory over the five-touchdown-underdog Demon Deacons (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday.
The Seminoles have won 10 straight since last year, and are coming off a blowout of their biggest ACC rival. None of their final four opponents have winning records.
But coach Jimbo Fisher knows that for his team remain in the national title chase, it can't just coast to the finish line.
“You know the situations and the media hype you get,” Fisher said. “The only thing you can control is how you play this week. What's important for us is to continue to play well, reach our goals in the games of getting better each week, learning to prepare each week and getting better as a team. If we do that, then the results, we'll take the results whatever they may be.”
They've been pretty good so far.
Florida State ranks no lower than third in the ACC in any of the eight main team stat categories. The Seminoles are tops in the league in scoring offense (51.1 ppg), scoring defense (13.1 ppg), total offense (549.1 ypg) and passing offense (339.4 ypg).
The last of the ACC's unbeatens has beaten every team on the schedule by at least two touchdowns and only Boston College (34) has hung more than 17 points on them.
No wonder Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe calls Florida State “the best team we've played so far.”
His Demon Deacons are the only team that drew all three of the league's nationally ranked teams. Wake Forest was routed by Clemson 56-7 but led Miami all day before falling 24-21 two weeks ago.
“After Miami, I thought we can play with the good teams, but we've got to play our best football,” Grobe said. “If we play really, really good football, I think we can win. ... It's all got to fall right. You can't turn the ball over. You can't have any goofy special-teams mistakes. You can't give up too many plays on defense. ... It's really got to be everybody.”
Five things to know about Florida State's visit to Winston-Salem:
WAKE FLORIDA: Wake Forest holds a surprising 4-3 lead in the series since 2006, beat the Seminoles 35-30 in their last visit and have so many native Floridians (29) on the roster that they've been dubbed “Wake Florida.” A few key Demon Deacons from that game – QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris and NT Nikita Whitlock – are still around but plenty has changed for Florida State. Since that October 2011 loss that dropped the Seminoles to 2-3 – the last time they've been under .500 – they're 27-3. “That seems like a long time ago,” Fisher said. “We've evolved and hopefully we can learn and continue to evolve.”
FAMOUS JAMEIS: Grobe faced seven of this week's projected NFL starting quarterbacks when they were in college and he expects Florida State freshman Jameis Winston to someday join that club. “We look at him no different than Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers in that regard,” Grobe said. Winston leads the ACC in total offense (331.9 ypg), passing average (312.8 ypg) and efficiency rating (201.1) while being surrounded by a cast of talented playmakers. “Somebody was talking about how he smiles all the time,” Grobe said. “I'd smile too, if I had those guys around me.”
CAMP OUT: The Demon Deacons have to find a way to fill the void left by an injury to their most productive player – do-it-all WR Michael Campanaro, who's likely out for the rest of the regular season after breaking his collarbone in last week's loss at Syracuse. Campanaro is responsible for nearly 30 percent of the team's total offense, either receiving, rushing or passing. Grobe says he wants to replace him by committee, with WRs Sherman Ragland III, Orville Reynolds and Tyree Harris the top candidates to replace that lost production.
FREEMAN'S SURGE: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman wants to follow up the best game of his career with an even bigger one. Freeman gashed Miami's tough defense for career highs of three touchdowns and 176 all-purpose yards, scoring on a 48-yard catch-and-run from Winston. Defense has been a strength for the Demon Deacons, who have allowed only one 100-yard rusher in their past five games.
LOOKING AHEAD?: Wake Forest might have to hope the Seminoles are flying too high after their 41-14 romp over the Hurricanes and don't take the Demon Deacons seriously. Fisher says it will be a test of his team's maturity “because all of these games are important games.” Wake Forest TE Spencer Bishop says he isn't expecting a Hurricane hangover: “Counting on a team to have a letdown game is not really how we approach things.”