Florida State has yet to lose in the 2014 college football season, but the defending national champs have not exactly looked like the best team in the country. On Saturday, the No.2 Seminoles will face their toughest test of the year when they host No.5 Notre Dame in Tallahassee.
Through six games, Florida State has seen their perfect record threatened on multiple occasions. In the opener, they beat Oklahoma State by six points, holding off a potential game-winning drive by the Cowboys late in the fourth quarter. In their first ACC matchup, the Seminoles needed overtime to beat then-No.22 Clemson, whom Florida State beat without a suspended Jameis Winston.
En route to last year’s BCS National Championship Game, the Seminoles didn’t have any close calls that threatened their perfect record. Before beating Auburn for the title, Florida State’s closest game was decided by 14 points, followed by a 27-point victory.
Even though their wins haven’t come as easily as many had expected, Florida State is still a heavy favorite over Notre Dame. They are giving the Fighting Irish 12 points at Doak Campbell Stadium, according to betting odds at Las Vegas casinos.
As evidenced by their game against Clemson, Florida State could find itself in serious danger of losing if Winston is not on the field. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach has reported that a letter from interim president Garnett Stokes to Winston stated that the Heisman Trophy winner could miss the game. Winston was never charged for an alleged sexual assault from Dec. 2012, but he faces a university student conduct code hearing because of the accusation.
At Monday’s press conference, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher was adamant that his quarterback is innocent and won’t miss any time.
"I know the facts of the case," Fisher told reporters. "The facts haven't changed in the case. We know the report and know everything out there. There's nothing new out there. We've been through this."
After winning the Heisman Trophy last year, Winston has seen a small dip in his numbers. He threw for 40 scores in 2014, but has completed 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions in five games. He ranks 12th in passer rating and sixth in completion percentage.
In Florida State’s most recent win over Syracuse, Winston was nearly perfect. He completed 30 of 36 pass attempts for 317 yards, three scores and no interceptions.
Through six games, Syracuse is the only common opponent shared by Florida State and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish scored a 16-point victory over the Orange that saw Notre Dame’s quarterback put on an impressive performance. In the win, Everett Golson went 32-of-39, completing a string of 25 straight passes.
Golson could give the Seminoles trouble, having put up some big numbers in 2014. He has thrown at least two touchdown passes in each game, helping Notre Dame put up 50 points in their most recent win over North Carolina.
While Golson could help Notre Dame put up a lot of points against the No.30-ranked defense in the country, his inability to take care of the ball could make it hard for the Irish to stay competitive. He turned the ball over three times against the Tar Heels, marking nine turnovers in his last three games.
If Golson doesn’t turn the ball over, it could be very difficult for Florida State to put points on the board. Even after allowing 43 points to North Carolina, Notre Dame ranks eighth in college football, allowing 17.2 points per game.
Prediction: Notre Dame did get a marquee win over Stanford at home, but they’ve yet to prove that they can play with an elite team on the road. Florida State might not look like the No.1 team, but Winston and Co. have a proven track record. A few key mistakes by Golson could spell a long night for the Fighting Irish.
Predicted Score: Florida State over Notre Dame, 38-24