To describe how dominant Florida State has been in 2013, let's begin by talking about when the Seminoles weren't as dominant.
For the first 10 minutes against Pittsburgh, FSU was outgained by 68 yards (109-41) and outscored, 7-0. For the first 20 minutes against Nevada, FSU was outgained by 38 yards (106-68) and outscored, 7-3. For the first 19 minutes against Boston College, FSU was outgained by 108 yards (160-52) and outscored, 17-3. For the first 20 minutes against Maryland, FSU was outgained by 15 yards (92-77) and nursed a 7-0 lead.
So that's 69 minutes, a yardage margin of minus-229 yards and a score of Opponent 31, FSU 13.
The other 171 minutes of those games: Florida State 211, Opponent 23. Yards: FSU 2,035, Opponent 675.
Three of these four teams are BCS-conference opponents, and while Nevada is god-awful this year, the other three at least entered last weekend ranked in the F/+ top 60. These weren't FCS teams, in other words. (We're completely ignoring FSU's game versus Bethune-Cookman.) But after 10 or 20 minutes each, they all gave out. Drastically.
And then, against Clemson, FSU decided not to spend 20 minutes in second gear. Lord help us if that's what we can expect moving forward.
"Are they tested?" is just a box you check. While you can certainly find examples of teams that look great against awful teams, then stumble when punched in the mouth for the first time (Louisville), you can usually glean just as much from how a team dominates bad competition as from how it plays against really good teams. Picking Team A simply because it is more tested than Team B is usually a recipe for making bad picks.
The early-season stats suggested that, despite not playing a top team yet, Florida State was pretty incredible. The Seminoles went out and left no doubt on Saturday night in Clemson.
I wrote last week that just about the only way Clemson could take FSU down was to get a crazy amount of pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston, who would be playing in easily his biggest game to date. FSU's pass protection leaves something to be desired sometimes (that, and Winston can be patient in a bad way), and Clemson is good at generating a pass rush on passing downs without blitzing, thanks to players like end Vic Beasley. That matchup aside, FSU held virtually all of the statistical advantages. Without pressure, Clemson's defense wouldn't be able to hold up.
To its credit, Clemson's defense did indeed make some plays. Seven of Winston's 12 incompletions were defensed (one intercepted, six others broken up), and the Tigers logged three sacks and six tackles for loss.
- FSU's other 60 plays (besides the seven passes defensed and six tackles for loss) gained 565 yards.
- Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was under more duress than Winston. He was sacked four times, and his 41 pass attempts (including sacks) gained a net 123 yards. It took almost four Boyd pass attempts to gain what Winston gained in one.
- The running games were essentially a wash -- without sacks, FSU rushed 35 times for 154 yards and Clemson rushed 37 times for 156 -- so the game came down to passing and play-making. And FSU cleaned house. Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins caught eight of 12 passes for just 68 yards; FSU's Rashad Greene caught eight of 12 for 146. Clemson's 33 other passes to players not named Watkins gained 135 yards; six passes to FSU tight end Nick O'Leary gained 161. You get the idea.
Florida State is terrifying. The Seminoles are loose. They're intense, fun, and mean. Despite absurd turnover on his coaching staff and a redshirt freshman in command of the offense, head coach Jimbo Fisher has crafted a two-deep with leadership and athleticism, wily experience (especially on the offensive line) and precocious youth. Florida State committed quite a few penalties (12 for 104 yards) on Saturday and made some clear mistakes; the Seminoles also beat a top-five team on the road by 37 points. And the only reason it wasn't worse was that the backups allowed a touchdown with 13 seconds left.
As Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples pointed out on Sunday, this is late-1980s and early-1990s Florida State stuff.
An entire generation of college football fans has come of age with no recollection of when Florida State was the baddest team in the universe, when Sanders and Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn and Peter Warrick and Peter Boulware steamrolled nearly every team they played. It has been 13 years since the Seminoles finished a season ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. Within the ACC, the fear of Florida State dissipated with each random loss to NC State or Wake Forest. People forgot how thoroughly a fully realized Florida State team can destroy a quality opponent. On Saturday, when Florida State receiver Rashad Greene put a finger to his lips when he reached the terminus of a 72-yard second-quarter touchdown pass and the Clemson crowd complied with silence, the memories came flooding back.
Who knows; maybe the lapses will catch up to Florida State one day. Maybe another poor 20-minute spell to start a game will be followed by a drastic run of bad luck and bounces. And since we still don't know how Jameis Winston will look in the fourth quarter of a tight game (and might not for a while longer), maybe he shows some cracks that actually imply he's as young as he is. But after making mediocre teams look like cupcakes for a month, the Seminoles did the same to a team most considered to be a national title contender. And if there was any doubt before -- my goodness, there shouldn't have been -- it's fair to say that the 'Noles are easily contenders themselves now. Now they just have to hope that Alabama or Oregon loses.
Five other thoughts from Saturday
1. 71-7, man. No, Iowa State is not good this year. No, Baylor hasn't played anybody particularly great. Yes, the Bears struggled to get past Kansas State (and probably should have lost) in their lone road trip to date. Understood. But ... 71-7. Yardage: Baylor 714, Iowa State 174. I'm sorry, but Baylor deserves Ohio State's spot near the top of the BCS standings.
2. James Franklin and E.J. Gaines were out. Keep that in mind when the Jesse Palmers of the world continue to tut-tut Missouri's romp through the first three games of its SEC East slate. Yes, Florida has lost a ton of star power. Yes, Georgia has, too. But Missouri was without star corner Gaines for most of the Georgia game and was without Franklin for the end, and both senior leaders, two of Missouri's four or so best players, missed the Florida game. And the Tigers won those two games by a combined 34 points. They more than tripled Florida's yardage on Saturday. Missouri is not Florida State or Alabama, no. But one probably needs to accept that the Tigers aren't 3-0 in the SEC East because of smoke, mirrors, and injuries. They're winning by margins that suggest they'd be winning against teams with full health.
3. Suck it up, Washington. A fast, intense Arizona State team is exactly the kind of squad you don't want to play after facing the Stanford-Oregon gauntlet. Washington all but beat Stanford two weeks ago and held on for about 50 minutes against Oregon before giving out. Having to go down to Tempe after giving all you can to try to prove you're (nearly) elite is pretty cruel scheduling. And in what I guess shouldn't have been a surprise, Washington gave in pretty quickly in the desert. The Huskies took a 7-3 lead into the second quarter, then got outscored, 43-10, over the next 31 minutes. Washington entered last week 13th in the F/+ rankings; the Huskies' statistical profile was sound. And hell, losing to No. 18 Arizona State is far from the end of the world. But the "Seven-win Steve (Sarkisian)" meme came up again on Saturday, and if the Huskies want to make anything of this season moving forward, they will need to use these next three weeks (California, bye week, Colorado) to recover and prepare to take down either UCLA or Oregon State on the road in late-November.
(Northwestern, on the other hand, was never statistically sound and has quickly begun to live down to its stats after an impressive performance against Ohio State. Getting thumped at Wisconsin after the tough loss to the Buckeyes is excusable. Losing at home to Minnesota? Not so much.)
4. Sean Mannion has thrown for 2,992 yards in seven games. Projected over 13 games, that's a pace for 5,557 yards. Here are the top five passing yardage seasons of all time (via): Texas Tech's B.J. Symons in 2003 (5,833), Texas Tech's Graham Harrell in 2007 (5,705), Houston's Case Keenum in 2009 (5,671) and 2011 (5,631), and Hawaii's Colt Brennan in 2006 (5,549). So basically, Mannion is on pace to throw for more yards than anybody ever has outside of the state of Texas. (And following a 49-17 romp over California, Oregon State is still undefeated against FBS teams and winless against FCS teams, which is fun.) If the Beavers can remain undefeated in Pac-12 play and knock off Oregon in the season finale, that 14th game could give Mannion the overall record.
We all saw this season coming from him, right? Right?
5. Welcome to the ACC, Syracuse. Now that you've experienced your ritual pantsing at the hands of Paul Johnson's Flexbone, you can go about adjusting for it like others (but not all) in the ACC have.