For the first time since the 2000 season, Florida State will play for a national championship.
No. 1 FSU capped of a 13-0 season with a 45-7 win over Duke in the ACC Championship game Saturday night to clinch a spot in the BCS title game. The Seminoles are expected to face No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in Pasadena, Calif.
While Auburn’s title run has been improbable, the Seminoles road to an undefeated season wasn’t exactly considered a high probably heading into the season. FSU lost 11 players to the NFL draft a season ago, including quarterback EJ Manuel. The Seminoles new starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, had never played in a college game prior to Labor Day, and in addition to all that Jimbo Fisher had to replace SIX assistant coaches this off-season.
Despite wining the Orange Bowl and the ACC title last season, I wondered if FSU had peaked under Fisher. In three seasons as the head coach in Tallahassee, Fla. Fisher had assembled elite talent, but had just one conference title and handful of inexplicable losses to inferior ACC opponents to show for it.
Fisher’s attitude was contentious much of the time during his first three seasons, a point that was hammered home as University President Eric Barron declined to give him a contract extension after last year’s 12-2 campaign. While the majority of the assistants that left FSU last season took promotions, a mass exit like that couldn’t have gone unnoticed by Fisher.
The West Virgina native has his hands in every aspect of the program, including play-calling duties for the offense during games. I was certain that FSU would never be able to avoid the occasional loss to a Virginia or N.C. State as long as Fisher continued to stretch himself so thin. Obviously I’m ready to admit that I was wrong. But I don’t think that FSU is where it is today without last season.
Fisher has had a noticeably different demeanor on the sidelines this season compared to year’s past. So much in fact that the one time he got in Winston’s face it became a national talking point (I’m sure Manuel and Christian Ponder found that amusing). He’s been more aggressive with his play-calling and FSU has been able to avoid stumbling even a little bit this season.
The easy answer for why these changes have occurred is Winston. While the redshirt Heisman front-runner certainly is a massive part for the improvement of the Seminole’s offense and Fisher’s calm demeanor, he isn’t the only factor.
I can only speculate that losing so many assistants last season, including an offensive coordinator he plucked from the high school coaching ranks while at LSU (James Coley to Miami) and a quarterback who put up record numbers under his tutelage (Dameyune Craig to Auburn), forced Fisher to reevaluate some things. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that since Randy Sanders has joined Fisher’s staff that Jimbo seems more at ease as a play-caller.
Thanks to Winston, and Fisher’s new found demeanor, the Seminoles are favored over Auburn in the final BCS title game. Gone are concerns that Fisher was more Ron Zook than Urban Meyer for the Seminoles’ program. And that contract extension? FSU and Fisher agreed to a new five-year deal that will play him close to $4.1 million per season.
So during the BCS Championship game FSU fans need to take a minute to look at their head coach as he strolls the sideline and realize that their head coach is all grown up, and that could be bad news for the rest of college football for a long time with the way Fisher can recruit.