NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The crystal football trophy awarded to the national champion was still covered in a fresh coat of fingerprints, put there the night before after Florida State pulled out a heart-thumping victory over Auburn, when FSU coach Jimbo Fisher sat on a stage in a hotel ballroom the morning after and suggested Monday’s 34-31 win in the Rose Bowl could be only the start for the Seminoles.
Winning a national title is nice, Fisher said. But why stop there?
The way the 48-year-old West Virginia native sees things, his job is not simply to be satisfied with an unblemished season, but rather to keep cranking them out, year upon year. Given the Seminoles’ wealth of returning talent, there’s no reason to believe they can’t turn the program into the powerhouse it was back when Bobby Bowden was in his coaching heyday.
Fisher, who replaced Bowden when the program soured, described the resurgence as a type of “reckoning,” with the Seminoles returning to their place atop the college football landscape. Fisher remembers a time when the Southeastern Conference didn’t rule the sport, or at least until the Noles ended the conference’s seven-year reign with their defeat of Auburn. Fisher was an assistant at Auburn from 1993 to ’98, and then at LSU under Nick Saban from 2000 to ’06, before being hired for FSU’s head coaching job.
“The SEC couldn’t get in [the national-title picture],” Fisher said in his familiar Southern drawl. “They said we wasn’t good enough. It was Miami and Florida State every year. They had the teams. They were in it — the Nebraskas, the Oklahomas. The SEC couldn’t get in.”
After Monday’s nail-biter, when the Seminoles rallied from a 21-3 first-half deficit before turning it on late for the dramatic win, with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston throwing the winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds left on the clock, Fisher said Florida State had “come full circle.”
The task now, he said, is to keep the motor running.
The challenge now, Fisher said, is to guard against complacency.
“It’s how hungry can you stay to be able to do it over and over again?” Fisher said.
Fisher has the weapons to remain on top. Not only is Winston returning, but so, too, is the bulk of the roster.
“This is an extremely young football team,” Fisher said.
Fisher pointed out that the Seminoles have only three seniors on offense — Chad Abrams, Bryan Stork and Kenny Shaw — and he expects to lose no more than one or two non-seniors who decide to declare for the NFL Draft. The defense doesn’t shape up much differently.
On top of that, the Seminoles will welcome in another top-five recruiting class.
It all adds up to this:
“I think it [next year’s team] is going to look very similar to who you’re seeing right now,” Fisher said. “I think this team will look very, very similar to the one you just saw.”
Florida State’s 2014 schedule will be more challenging than last season’s. The Seminoles have nonconference headline battles lined up against Notre Dame and Oklahoma State, as well as a match-up with Atlantic Coast Conference newcomer Louisville.
Monday’s victory proved it will take more than talent to repeat. The Seminoles, who spent the season beating up on opponents with relative ease, found themselves in a dogfight against Auburn. As FSU receiver Rashad Greene said in the winning locker room afterward, “They hit us with a blow.”
It was a gutsy call by Fisher that might have swung the momentum.
With the Seminoles trailing 21-3 in the second half, Fisher called for a fake punt from the FSU 40 with five minutes left in the first half. Karlos Williams ran for the first down, the drive continued, and FSU ended up scoring its first TD on a Devonta Freeman short run.
“I don’t believe you win championships with gimmicks,” Fisher said, explaining the fake-punt call. “But we have as many tricks as anybody else. Like [Saban] used to say in practice, I had a stick in my pocket and used to draw them up in the dirt, and he used to get mad. But I just believe in using them when you think you have to change momentum.”
Florida State didn’t win its third national championship with trickery, though. It won largely with talent and coaching. Both of those factors will not be changing from this season to next.
Fisher said he celebrated quietly and briefly with friends and family members in his hotel room following Monday’s win.
“We just hung out right there and, basically, I sat there in the chair and about half fell asleep, to be honest with you,” Fisher said. “You feel like you want to sleep for about a week after these seasons. But we’ll get back [Wednesday] and give the staff a day or so, and then we’ll get back recruiting. It’s time for another one.”