No. 2 Florida State is in the driver’s seat for a berth in the BCS championship game, but it still needs to handle its own business for the next five weeks. That starts with Saturday's game against Wake Forest. Here are five things to watch when the Demon Deacons host the Seminoles (noon, ABC).
1. Winston’s rebound. OK, so Jameis Winston’s “bad” game wasn’t actually too bad. He completed all but two throws in the second half last Saturday against Miami, and Florida State won easily. Still, he did throw two interceptions in the game, which represented the closest thing he’s had to a struggle. Winston doesn’t figure to run into many stumbling blocks this week, but a big game statistically could be significant in the race for the Heisman Trophy. After Marcus Mariota’s struggles Thursday against Stanford, it could a two-man race between Winston and the reigning winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
2. Youth in the secondary. Terrence Brooks will sit out of Saturday's game with concussion symptoms, though Jimbo Fisher said the senior is recovering well and it’s not expected to be a long-term concern. In the short term, however, two true freshmen are likely to see a heavy workload in the secondary. Jalen Ramsey continues to shine at safety in place of injured Tyler Hunter, and Nate Andrews has been exceptional in reserve duty. He picked off a pass in the second half against Miami, subbing for Brooks. Keelin Smith figures to get some work, too. Against a better passing offense it might be a concern, but with Michael Campanaro out for Wake Forest, the test won’t be quite so big.
3. Finding an identity. Wake Forest struggled early to figure out an offensive identity, but by midseason it was clear that the combination of Campanaro and quarterback Tanner Price was the Deacons’ ticket to the end zone. Campanaro had double-digit receptions four times this season, and during his seven healthy games this year, he was responsible for 44 percent of Wake’s receptions and 49 percent of its receiving yards. Price has been solid this season, due in large part to Campanaro’s consistency. But without the star receiver, head coach Jim Grobe will have his work cut out for him trying to find a consistent offensive threat. The Deacons are dead last in the ACC in rushing yards, averaging just 90 per game. Their 2.85 yards-per-carry average ranks 118th nationally.
4. Avoid turnovers. Two years ago, Florida State went to Winston-Salem, N.C., and lost a game it had no business losing. The difference in that 35-30 Wake Forest victory was turnovers — five of them in total. That hasn’t been an issue for the Seminoles at all in 2013. They’ve gone nine consecutive games without losing the turnover battle, and FSU’s eight turnovers lost is tied for the fifth-fewest in the nation among AQ teams. The Seminoles have the better talent in this game by a wide margin, but losing the football too often is the great equalizer.
5. Stay focused. The Seminoles have had doubters to fight against all year, but no more. Their destiny is in their hands, and that’s the one hurdle we haven’t seen Fisher’s crew overcome yet. If this really is a new, more mature Florida State team, it will have no problem throttling Wake Forest early and moving on to the next challenge. If the Seminoles read too many of their own headlines, then the national title game appearance is anything but secure.