“That may be the best team in the country,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said moments after the Florida State Seminoles, ranked No. 5 going into the game,. finished a 51-14 demolition of the then-No. 3 Tigers on their home turf Saturday night.
Clemson started the evening — its stadium packed to capacity — trying to break the world record for crowd noise. Instead, those 83,428 fans witnessed another broken record. By the end of the night the Seminoles, who moved up to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll Sunday, had scored more points than any other Tigers opponent at Memorial Stadium.
It was a result no one expected; no one, except maybe the Seminoles.
“I wasn’t surprised. We worked and have been preparing for this game for two weeks,” said junior wide receiver Rashad Greene, a former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas star who finished with 146 receiving yards and two touchdowns. “I was very confident in my coaches and our players and what our scheme was. So I wasn’t surprised. We came here expecting to win.”
But the Seminoles (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) did more than just win. Florida State served notice to the rest of the country that FSU is back.
“I think since my four years here this is the first brotherhood I’ve been a part of to embrace that challenge,” said senior defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, another former St. Thomas star. “You look at last year, you have a bunch of talent. But you have talent with no belief. We lacked leadership. No one embraced leadership.
“This year, the younger guys are looking up to the older guys. [And] you have a young guy like Jameis Winston. Most of the time you’re appointed a time for leadership. He’s a natural leader. We respect that, so we follow his lead.”
And therein lies the difference between the Florida State teams of the past few years — teams that hoped FSU might be back — and this team. This Florida State team believes it. The difference? Winston.
As Winston goes, so go the Seminoles.
Moments before Florida State took the field, ESPN’s cameras gave fans a rare glimpse inside the Florida State locker room.
And there standing in the middle of the team was the Seminoles’ redshirt freshman quarterback — loose, confident, the unquestioned leader — telling his team to smile, that they were going to go out and win.
“He sat with me on the bus and he was doing his normal thing, talking, playing around a little bit, and he was relaxed,” Greene said. “That’s what you get with him every day, so I knew he was ready.”
The personality of the Seminoles has become analogous to its quarterback. His confidence, his moxie, his “swag” — they have all rubbed off on his teammates.
That couldn’t have been more evident Saturday night. That crowd noise? It sure didn’t bother Winston. And he didn’t let it bother his teammates, either.
“It was amazing, when we were out on the field that first snap, it was loud!” joked Winston after the game. “We started smiling, and I said, guys, ‘we don’t play against noise, we’re playing against the Clemson Tigers.’”
Two plays later, he connected with Kelvin Benjamin on a 22-yard touchdown pass. Florida State never looked back.
Winston finished with a career-high 444 passing yards, and he passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Seminoles took Clemson to the woodshed.
And at the rate their mercurial redshirt freshman quarterback is playing — Florida State may not be looking back for quite some time.