On New Year's Day, the undefeated Florida State Seminoles will attempt to defend their national title in the Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks, the Pac-12 champions. Should FSU prevail, it'll get the winner of the Alabama vs. Ohio State Sugar Bowl matchup. While most college football fans would love to see Jameis Winston & Co. take on the Crimson Tide, Las Vegas has the Ducks advancing. I'm here to tell you why they're flat out wrong.
Florida State, for those unaware, has won 29 straight games, and it didn't all happen by accident. While Winston hasn't had quite the same season that he had a year ago statistically, he's been extremely efficient when it matters - the second halves of games. Winston may not have been a Heisman Trophy contender in 2014, but he's still one of the most feared players in college football. He's going to prove it, yet again, in the College Football Playoff.
But Winston isn't the only reason that Florida State is going to win the inaugural Playoff. Here are the five reasons why the Seminoles are going to be your two-time defending national champions heading into 2015-2016.
5. Roberto Aguayo
College football is not like the NFL - especially when it comes to kicking. Most college football programs are shaky at the kicker position - just ask Alabama, which can blame its 2013 Iron Bowl loss on it. But Florida State has an absolute stud at the position, and his name is Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo, in two full seasons, has missed just three field goal attempts. Augayo is 46-of-49, and somehow, he's never missed from 50+ yards out.
Oregon uses two kickers - Matt Wogan and Aidan Schneider. The Ducks have converted 15-of-18 field goal attempts on the year. Kicking, as most fans are aware, isn't a big part of Oregon's game.
Florida State played seven one-score games this year, and there's no reason to believe that either of its College Football Playoff games couldn't come down to the fourth quarter. The Seminoles will always have the option for three points - other teams can't make the same claim.
Sure, it's fair to say that Florida State is a bit younger than it was last year heading into the BCS National Championship Game. But anyone who was on the Seminoles roster last year knows what it's like to play on the game's biggest stage - and that includes Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and Karlos Williams. FSU's first opponent, Oregon, does not have the same kind of experience on its roster.
Plus, Florida State, for better or for worse, has been playing in close games all year. Its players know how to close out victories - even if it wasn't always pretty at times. Florida State had to eke out wins over Oklahoma State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, Boston College, Florida and Georgia Tech. The Seminoles also needed a final drive against Auburn in last year's national title game to come up victorious. There's no bigger stage than that.
Marcus Mariota is a big-time player, but he hasn't had to deal with the kind of pressure that Winston and his teammates have been dealing with this year. The Ducks are talented, but they're going to be at a huge disadvantage in that department.
3. Florida State Has Embraced Its Role As The Villain
For a number of reasons, the Seminoles are the current villain of college football. First off, they're the defending national champion, so naturally, everyone wants them to lose. Second, their quarterback makes more news off the field than he does on it (and he won a Heisman Trophy). And third, college football fans like to accuse the school of favoring its football players when it comes to legal matters. Whether any of it is valid, it's a reality - college football fans hate Florida State.
But here's the thing - it actually works in the team's favor. Florida State has won 29 straight games - much to the chagrin of the average fan. And as we've heard from numerous sources, the off-the-field chatter has a way of unifying the players. It also doesn't seem to matter if they fall behind by a few touchdowns - they always know they're capable of rallying to win. This is as cohesive a unit as you're going to find in the sport.
Jimbo Fisher's comments about perceived SEC bias help play into it too - fans of most southern teams can't stand the program. While some of it may be justified, some of it is also jealousy.
2. Dalvin Cook
Back on December 31, 2013, five-star running back recruit Dalvin Cook officially flipped from Florida to Florida State. It's safe to assume that Seminoles fans are pretty happy with the way things played out.
Cook, who has steadily seen his role increase as the season has progressed on, has been an absolute monster the past two games in starter Karlos Williams' absence. Williams, who suffered a concussion early on against Florida, was averaging just 4.4 yards per carry on the season. Cook, conversely, has ripped off a 5.8 average, and over the past two games, has rushed for over 300 yards. He's getting hot at just the right time. He's also young, so he can handle an increased load if he needs to.
Cook's emergence means that Oregon will have to deal with two big-time running backs on New Year's Day. And that's on top of...
1. Jameis Winston
There's no doubt - Jameis Winston had a better year in 2013 than he did in 2014. But there is one huge similarity - the Seminoles still haven't lost a game under his leadership. And he's still the quarterback who led the Seminoles to a national championship.
Winston has thrown 24 touchdowns against 17 interceptions, which, on paper, doesn't seem like a fantastic ratio. But Winston has a flair for the dramatic. Winston's quarterback rating, overall, improved every quarter. In first quarters of games, he finished with a 118.1 rating. In the fourth quarters of games, it was 167.0. It won't surprise you to hear that he's led four fourth-quarter comebacks in his two years either.
Plus, Winston has had to deal with more off-the-field issues than any college football player in recent memory. Through it all, he's remained poised - and more-than-capable of leading his team to victories on the field. While Marcus Mariota, Blake Sims and Cardale Jones are all fine players, there is no quarterback/athlete in America under the same kind of scrutiny, day in and day out. Winston knows how to deal with pressure, period. He'll remind us all of that in early January, yet again.