TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During the run-up to last season’s BCS National Championship Game, the knock on Florida State was that, through a product of their overwhelming dominance, the Seminoles hadn’t been “battle tested.”
If they found themselves in the fourth quarter of a close game, the narrative went, they might not know how to handle themselves.
Safe to say that this year’s Seminoles don’t have that problem. FSU on Saturday survived in a thrilling, 31-27 victory over Notre Dame that extended its school-record winning streak to 23.
It was the latest in a series of tightrope acts for FSU, which has used second-half comebacks against Clemson, North Carolina State and Notre Dame to spark its 7-0 record.
“The Navy SEALs have a saying for it: ‘Finding an excuse to win,’” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We find excuses to win.”
This one didn’t come easily. Notre Dame outplayed the Seminoles for much of the game and thought it had won after quarterback Everett Golson completed a go-ahead touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the game.
But an offensive pass interference penalty nullified the score and FSU escaped.
“The one thing that people need to realize about the Seminoles team is when we’ve got our backs against the wall, we always rise,” said quarterback Jameis Winston, who completed 15 of his 16 passing attempts during FSU’s second-half rally.
“We start playing harder.”
In many ways it was reminiscent of FSU’s win over Clemson last month. The Tigers had the Seminoles on the ropes, driving for a game-winning field goal before Eddie Goldman forced a fumble that led to an overtime triumph.
FSU followed a similar script two weeks later at N.C. State, where its 56-41 win came only after a furious rally erased a 24-7 deficit in the first quarter.
Florida State’s wins this season haven’t always featured a lopsided final score. But that hasn’t made them any less meaningful.
“They’re extremely satisfying,” Fisher said. “I mean, that’s what you play for.
“That’s what you strive to get your program through all the time, to be able to persevere and play in games like this and be able to win those kind of games. That doesn’t happen — that doesn’t happen (just) anywhere.”
Fisher has emphasized for months that it’s not fair to compare this year’s team to 2013.
That group, he said, was among the most dominant in college football history.
This year’s Seminoles haven’t reached that level, at least not yet, and the college football world has noticed.
FSU slipped from its No. 1 ranking after last week’s win over Syracuse, and voters this week kept the Seminoles at No. 2, even despite their win over the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish.
Not that they mind.
“I’m not sure about doubters or anything like that,” junior defensive back P.J. Williams said. “We just know that we are going to do whatever we have to do to win games, and we’re not going down.”
And through seven games, the Seminoles have at least one thing in common with their predecessors: They’re still undefeated and still entrenched in the national title race.
“You can say whatever you want,” Fisher said. “Is this team as dominant (as last year)? Is it not as spectacular?
“This team understands how to win. It has character. It has culture. And it’s about developing this group into the best football team it can be.”