CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Duke did to Florida State what no team had done all season. They held the Seminoles without a first-quarter point and quieted Jameis Winston.
This was the nation’s No. 1 team?
This was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy?
They didn’t look like it at first, but Winston and the unbeaten Seminoles woke up in plenty of time, turning it on late for a 45-7 victory over Duke to earn a spot in the BCS National Championship game. They're set up to face Auburn due to No. 2 Ohio State's loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship.
It will be Florida State’s first shot at the national title since losing to Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl. They won their second national title the season before against Virginia Tech.
"Offensively, we were out of sync," said Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher. "But our defense was key tonight. They were absolutely outstanding."
Duke didn't score until the final minute.
"Defense wins championships, and they definitely won the game for us today," said Winston, who said he probably got off to a bad start because he had too much adrenalin.
Winston, playing his first game since prosecutors announced Thursday the quarterback would not be charged in a sexual assault case, completed only one of his first six passes. A pass to Kelvin Benjamin was underthrown. Another heave to Rashard Greene was overthrown. Winston wasn’t Heisman-like in the least.
But he was when it mattered, passing for three touchdowns and running for another as the Seminoles ran past the Blue Devils -- and straight to Pasadena for a Jan. 6 showdown against the Tigers.
"I like to measure players when they don't have their 'A' game," Fisher said. "Everybody can play when you're on. But when you're just a hair off, and things aren't going just right, to me that's when you find the greatness of players, who can recover and come back."
Winston and the Seminoles did just that.
If he hadn’t done so already, Winston likely wrapped up the Heisman, and for good reason. When he connected with Kenny Shaw on a 11-yard completion in the third quarter, he broke Sam Bradford’s collegiate record for touchdown passes by a freshman with his 37th.
"I love my team," Winston said after being named the game's MVP. "We're not over yet. We're going to the next level. When you've got a good team, anything is possible."
The frozen image of his third-quarter touchdown run, though, provided a true Heisman moment. Winston sprinted outside on a keeper, hurdled a defender at the goal line, and landed in the end zone.
Winston also threw a pair of TD passes to Benjamin, including a 54-yarder in the third quarter as the Seminoles took a 17-0 halftime lead and widened it with a scoring onslaught in the third quarter.
Winston wasn’t perfect. Far from it. In addition to his early misfires, he was intercepted twice for only the second time this season. That shouldn’t change the minds of any Heisman voters, who have until Monday to turn in their ballots. The award will be presented Saturday.
"I came into the game very overhyped," Winston said. "I haven't been that overhyped for a game, probably since the Miami game. We got a victory, so at the end of the day, if I had a bad performance, it didn't matter. we're still the ACC champions."
But even on an imperfect night for Winston, Duke couldn’t find a way to stop him when it counted. They did manage to rile him up though, when Duke’s Dwayne Norman knocked him out of bounds with a sharp hit that officials ruled came too late.
Winston bounced up immediately, pointed an angry finger at the Duke bench, and promptly led the Seminoles on another scoring drive that expanded the lead to 45-0. Norman was ejected for using the crown of his helmet when he landed another punishing hit on FSU tight end Nick O’Leary in the end zone.
Toss in rushing touchdowns by Karlos Williams and Devonta Freeman, and the result was yet another blowout for the Seminoles, who have made a habit of it this season.
Their average of margin of victory -- 42.7 points per game going into the ACC championship game -- was the largest in the country by a wide margin.
The win improved Florida State to 13-0 -- most wins in school history. They also improved their career record against Duke (10-3) to 19-0.
Now they’ll be headed to Pasadena with a chance to capture the school’s third national championship, and the first for Fisher.