And now Jameis Winston and the Seminoles have one more challenge ahead – a date with Auburn in the national championship.
Jameis Winston threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, and No. 1 Florida State stormed into the title game with a 45-7 victory over 20th-ranked Duke on Saturday night in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles are expected to face Auburn in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6 after No. 2 Ohio State lost to Michigan State.
The Heisman Trophy favorite was 19 of 32 for 330 yards and set FBS freshman records for TD passes and yards passing in a season two days after prosecutors decided not to press charges against him in a sexual assault case.
Winston threw two touchdown passes to 6-foot-5, 234-pound receiver Kelvin Benjamin and ran for a 17-yard score to overcome two interceptions.
“I love my team,” Winston told Seminoles fans. “It means we’re going to the next level.”
As Queen’s “We Are the Champions” was playing as a backdrop on the celebration, coach Jimbo Fisher said: “We’re not champs yet.”
Florida State’s defense was dominant, holding Duke (10-3) to 239 yards and forcing three turnovers to help the Seminoles (13-0) win their second straight ACC title.
“Offensively we were out of sync early,” Fisher said. “Our defense was the key tonight and they were absolutely outstanding.”
It was Florida State’s 12th win by at least 27 points. The Seminoles entered as 29-point favorites after outscoring its opponents by an average of 43 points.
Florida State outgained Duke 569-239.
Winston struggled early with overthrowing receivers and the Seminoles failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season.
Florida State’s first scoring opportunity ended when Devonta Freeman coughed up the ball at the Duke 3 following a 22-yard run.
But it wouldn’t matter.
Florida State slowly took charge in the second quarter and built a 17-0 halftime lead behind a stifling defense that forced Duke to go three-and-out on seven of its eight first-half possessions.
Winston got the Seminoles on the board early in the second quarter when he found Benjamin for a 14-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone. Karlos Williams bowled over two defenders on a 12-yard touchdown inside run to make it 14-0 after Lamarcus Joyner intercepted Duke quarterback Anthony Boone’s pass.
Florida State outgained Duke 268-94 in the first half.
“I don’t know if we were demoralized, but it’s no fun,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “A big strong quarterback who moves around well means you have to be disciplined. … The more they are on the field the more they make plays.”
The onslaught continued in the second half with Winston hooking up on a 54-yard touchdown reception with Benjamin, who showed he’s not only big but can move too after blowing by defenders. He finished with 119 yards receiving.
Freeman ran for 91 yards and a touchdown and Williams had 59 yards on the ground.
Winston, a redshirt freshman and the game’s MVP, was far from perfect.
He threw two interceptions and also made a bad decision on a shovel pass as he falling to the ground. The ball hit linebacker Kelby Brown in the hands, but he couldn’t corral the ill-advised pass.
There was a heated moment midway through the fourth quarter when Winston took exception to what he felt was a late hit on the Blue Devils after he released a pass.
Duke’s only points came with 1:01 left when Josh Snead scored on a 5-yard run.
NOTES: Jamison Crowder set a new Duke single-season record in yards receiving in the first quarter. … Florida State kicker Robert Aguayo set a new ACC record with 142 points on the season when he converted a 45-yard field goal late in the second quarter. … Duke sophomore safety Dwayne Norman was disqualified from the game in the fourth quarter when he led with his helmet on a hit in the end zone.