GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Florida State Seminoles seek an undefeated league season for the first time since 2000, as they close out ACC play this weekend at home against the Syracuse Orange.
The Seminoles have recorded seven previous undefeated league slates since joining the ACC in 1992. Jimbo Fisher's squad has already secured the ACC's Atlantic Division crown and will get an opportunity to defend last year's ACC title when FSU plays in the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 7. More importantly, courtesy of FSU's 59-3 rout of Wake Forest last week, the Seminoles moved to 9-0 on the year and 7-0 in-conference and are now sitting at No.2 in the polls, as well as the all-important BCS rankings. Should FSU win out, it will play for the national championship in Pasadena on Jan. 6.
Scott Shafer's first season at the helm of Syracuse has been a mixed bag. The Orange started slow but have made up for lost time and are now just one game from becoming bowl eligible at 5-4, thanks to wins in each of the last two games. Last week, the team knocked off Maryland in College Park, 20-3. Syracuse is in its first season in the ACC and has held its own at 3-2 in league play.
Florida State has won five of the six all-time meetings with Syracuse. The Orange won the first-ever meeting in 1966, but FSU has reeled off five straight wins, including a 38-14 decision in the last matchup in 2005.
Syracuse isn't an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination, but the team does possess a strong ground game (202.7 ypg) that sets up the pass (182.8 ypg).
The team has used a quarterback tandem with sophomore Terrel Hunt and senior Drew Allen. Neither has been an effective passer, with a combined 1,583 passing yards, with nine touchdowns against 15 interceptions.
The bread-and-butter of the offense is the rushing attack though, spearheaded by tailback Jerome Smith, who leads the team with 705 yards (4.9 ypc) and 10 touchdowns. Prince-Tyson Gulley gets his hands on the ball as well and ranks second with 440 yards (5.6 ypc) and four scores. Hunt has shown the ability to make plays with his legs, with 337 yards rushing and four TDs.
Shafer likes what he has seen from his ground game, especially Smith.
"Smith has done a nice job," Shafer said. "That offensive line has provided him good push up front, but you still have to bust through there and break tackles and Jerome has been doing that all year."
The defense for Syracuse has had its ups and downs this season but has posted decent overall numbers over the long haul, holding foes to 22.9 ppg on 366.9 yards of total offense. The unit has really made an impact with plays upfield, recording 70 TFL and 27 sacks thus far.
Sophomore safety Durell Eskridge should earn all-conference honors for his play this season, as he leads the team in tackles (59) and is tied with fellow sophomore Julian Whigham for the team-lead in interceptions (3). Other defenders of note include senior middle linebacker Marquis Spruill (51 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley (31 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks).
The Orange will be facing their toughest defensive challenge to date, as Florida State is simply one of the nation's most potent offenses, ranking second in the country in scoring (52.0 ppg) and ninth in total offense (521.0 ypg).
A lot of that has to do with the rapid ascension of redshirt freshman Jameis Winston among the nation's elite signal callers. The 6-foot-4 youngster has played lights out from day one and is currently mentioned among the Heisman favorites. Winston has completed 69.2 percent of his passes this season, for 2,661 yards, with 26 touchdown passes.
It certainly helps to have a deep and talented receiving pool, led by standout WR Rashad Greene (50 receptions, for 820 yards, eight TDs). Fellow wideouts Kenny Shaw (35 receptions, 622 yards, three TDs), Kelvin Benjamin (27 receptions, 499 yards, six TDs) and tight end Nick O'Leary (23 receptions, 389 yards, six TDs) have all made plays as well.
The FSU rushing attack, which churns out just under 200 yards per game (196.3) is also fueled by great depth. Devonta Freeman (650 yards, 5.6 ypc, 9 TDs), Karlos Williams (444 yards, 7.3 ypc, 8 TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (317 yards, 5.7 ypc, 5 TDs) are rotated in and out of games to provide fresh legs at all times.
FSU's defense doesn't take a backseat to the offense in the least bit. The Seminoles rank fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and total defense (274.1 ypg), 22nd in rush defense (126.2 ypg) and first in both pass defense (147.9 ypg) and interceptions (18). Six of those interceptions came last week against Wake Forest, tying an FSU record.
Star power on the FSU defense is found in the form of linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. Smith leads the team in tackles (56), with 6.5 TFL, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. Joyner is playing as well as any defensive back in the nation and has 47 total tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles.
Fisher recognizes where FSU is at this point and that it has been a complete team effort this season.
"They feed off each other. They really do - offense, defense, special teams. They really care for each other and they like each other," said Fisher. "They genuinely just have fun playing football."
The Seminoles have won 13 straight ACC games and should have no problem making it 14. Fisher has his team focused on the task at hand and although it would be easy to look down the road at a possible national championship, expect Winston and company to take care of business against a game, but overmatched Orange.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome. Florida State 40, Syracuse 17