As tough as it is to win a national championship in major college football, it’s even harder to win two in a row.
There’s a target on your back every game, and you get every team’s best shot. That will be especially true for this year’s Florida State football team, who will attempt the second repeat in a row, following in Alabama’s tracks after they won both the 2011 and 2012 championships.
Here are a few things the Seminoles must do if they’re going to win it all again.
Approach each game with extreme caution
FSU was fortunate to fly under the radar for much of the 2013 season. After they thrashed Clemson on the road, they were in the national championship discussion for the rest of the year, but before that, they got to play five games without all the added pressure of national attention.
This season will be a different story. They’re riding a 16-game winning streak, and everybody wants to know if they can do it again. They have a tough, neutral-site game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys to open the season, and it won’t be a cakewalk. If they’re not ready for Okie State’s best shot, FSU’s national title hopes could be derailed immediately.
Keep Jameis healthy … and out of trouble
It’s no secret that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the most important piece of this team for the second year in a row. It’s also no secret that he’s gotten into his share of trouble while at Florida State. With Jameis Winston on the field, the Seminoles will be favored in each game, no matter who they’re playing, so the key is to keep the quarterback healthy.
No offense to Sean Maguire, the team’s backup quarterback, but FSU will only win the College Football Playoff this season if Winston’s under center.
Dominate on defense again
In each of the last two seasons, the team that allowed the fewest points in the country won the national title. Last year, FSU allowed most of their points in “garbage time” (the second, third and fourth quarters in most games, after the Seminoles had already built a 35-0 lead), but several leaders from that unit are gone. In 2014, the ‘Noles will have to replace several key defensive players from 2013’s magical season, including Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith.
It will be key for Florida State’s defense to get off the field quickly and let Jameis and the offense wear down opposing defenses, especially in key road games like Louisville and Miami. And don’t forget that opener against Oklahoma State; When big-name teams square off in the first week, offenses usually aren’t on the same page yet, which can put points at a premium. If the FSU defense can’t stop the Cowboys early, Florida State might face an insurmountable deficit on Saturday.
Ignore all the nonsense
The national media will be analyzing each step (and misstep) the Seminoles take, and fans will want to see the defending national champions lose and make way for someone else. The players and coaches can’t get caught up in the drama, or they’ll risk falling a step behind the competition. Each player must be sharp and ready to roll every Saturday. The team isn’t allowed to use Twitter during the season, which should help them block out the chatter to an extent.
Remember to wear that lucky shirt
Two seasons ago, I was given a new FSU polo shirt during the week of the ACC Championship game against Georgia Tech. I’ve worn it for every football game since then, and the ‘Noles have gone 16-0. The way I see it, as long as I’m wearing that shirt, Florida State is unstoppable.*
*Doesn’t apply to any other sports – the basketball team definitely hasn’t enjoyed the same luck.