Oct. 20, 2013
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Death Valley is dead. Florida State's own house of horrors is no more -- gone in one memorable night.
Losers of five consecutive games inside the unfriendly confines of Clemson's Memorial Stadium, the No. 5 'Noles' buried the No. 3 Tigers under their home turf in such a manner that had never been seen.
And the entire college football world watched it happen in one sustained whistle-to-whistle triumphant performance.
In front of an orange-clad crowd of 84,428 hungry for a Guinness World Record for Largest Crowd Roar, the Seminoles played the role of silencer, quieting the rowdy masses with a forced fumble on the game's first play that would be turned into points and finishing things up with Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston victory interviews with ESPN's Chris Fowler.
In Death Valley's storied history, no team had ever scored more than 48 points against the Tigers. But the 'Noles hung 51 Clemson and probably could have scored more. They were that dominant. Billed as the biggest ACC game in history, Florida State laid the biggest whooping on home-team Clemson ever.
FSU's come-from-behind victory in Tallahassee over the Tigers last season was a defining moment in the head-coaching career of Fisher, and until Saturday was the biggest win of his tenure. But what his Seminoles did in this year's revisit to the rivalry is much, much bigger because of what the 51-14 score leaves in its wake.
Fisher's Seminoles aren't just in the driver's seat in the race to the ACC crown, they're comfortably behind the wheel of a speeding locomotive heading west towards Pasadena. There are still six regular-season games (and a now-likely conference championship game) to go and a lot of football left to be played before the Seminoles can even think about a national championship, but that doesn't hide the reality that this FSU team is firmly in control of its own destiny.
From a resume standpoint, few national-title hopefuls will have a game that compares favorably to what Florida State did on the road Saturday against the nation's No. 3 team.
This was a statement win. A win that sends a message to the rest of the nation, letting everyone know that, "Hey, we may never be able to match the unprecedented success of our 14-year dynasty, but we sure as heck are going to try."
And Winston is the captain of that quest.
FSU's redshirt freshman quarterback has done everything except play like a rookie through what is now the first six games of his career and Saturday he outplayed his redshirt senior counterpart in a highly anticipated quarterback duel between two of the nation's best.
It was Winston that looked like the savvy, battle-tested veteran under the brightest of lights and amid unquestionable pressure. Clemson's Tajh Boyd managed just 156 yards on 17-of-37 passing in the face of a vicious and relentless FSU defense that quieted doubters and imposed its will. Winston meanwhile looked in the face of an improved Tigers defense and tamed them with a career-high 445 yards and four total touchdowns.
So while his team will now deservedly-so be talked about as a legitimate national championship contender, it's no coincidence that Winston himself is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender blessed with a stable of offensive weapons any quarterback would dream of having. On the opposite side of the ball, FSU's defense proved against the potent Tigers that the Mark Stoops to Jeremy Pruitt transition hasn't deterred its dominance.
An all-star quarterback. A plethora of playmakers. A nasty defense with bad intentions. Doesn't that sound a lot like the characteristics of the FSU teams of the dynasty years?
In a case of perfect timing, former FSU coach Bobby Bowden now returns Saturday to Doak Campbell Stadium and the field that bears his name for the first time since his retirement when the 'Noles host NC State at 3:30 p.m.
Bowden's symbolic return is part of a weekend of celebration for a career defined by greatness -- a trait that is looking more and more likely to be the definition of the 2013 Seminoles.