TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No sport manufactures motivation quite like college football. Seemingly each week, leaking out of locker rooms are cries of ceaseless disrespect fueling seasons. A win was ostensibly unattainable until the team rallied around the dubious premise that nobody believed they could win.
“If that’s what makes [players] go, then great,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “But if that’s what motivates you …”
The seventh-year Seminoles coach trailed off because he isn’t buying the concept a team prepares or plays any harder because it feels like an underdog. So as one this week, a position the Seminoles have rarely been in the past four seasons, Fisher is saying publicly that it’s not something No. 12 Florida State will use as a source of motivation.
Undefeated and No. 4 Clemson is a 4.5-point favorite over Florida State as of Monday night, an increase from Sunday’s opening point spread (Clemson minus-3). The Tigers have won 21 straight regular-season games, while the Seminoles closed the first half of the season as one of the bigger disappointments following a top-5 preseason ranking.
Florida State isn’t dealing itself the underdog card from the bottom of the deck, though. Few would be surprised if the Seminoles pulled off the upset at home. A worse Seminoles team led a better Clemson team on the road at halftime last year.
“No, not at all,” running back Dalvin Cook said when asked if being an underdog serves as motivation. “We still got to go out there and let the pads do the talking for themselves. If you’re the underdog, just put a smile on your face and go practice and play some football.”
Fisher routinely credits players over ploys as the reason why a team has success, and the Seminoles have one of the country’s better rosters. The nation's No. 1 recruiting class enrolled in Tallahassee, Florida, this spring. No Power 5 running back has more rushing yards than Cook’s 900. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker is second nationally with 8.5 sacks.
The issue is Clemson’s roster is better, and the Seminoles have not fared well when going up against a team considered more talented. Michigan State they are not, as the Spartans have won seven of their past 10 as underdogs. Florida State has lost seven of its past 10.
Fisher was 2-2 as an underdog in his inaugural season, but he’s 1-5 since. The Seminoles beat Miami earlier this month, but four of the five losses as underdogs were by at least 10 points. Two losses -- Louisville this season and Oregon in 2014 -- were by a combined 82 points.
It’s a credit to Fisher that the Seminoles have rarely been underdogs during his tenure. It’s happened only 10 times since Fisher became head coach in 2010, and from 2011-14, they were favored in 50 straight games. In Bobby Bowden’s last season, Florida State was an underdog six times.
All of that means little to these Seminoles, however. There has yet to be an us-against-the-world harangue, and there’s no group text updating the locker room with every Las Vegas point-spread fluctuation.
Walker said he isn’t paying any attention to the pregame projections leading up Saturday’s tilt. The motivation of being an underdog or spoiling the Tigers’ season isn’t necessary, he said. The goal is to play good football, not prove prognosticators wrong.
“I don’t pay attention to that. We just got to take care of ourselves. I’m very excited about this game, to be honest,” he said. “… We’re just going out there and playing for us.”