Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Unlikely foes will collide in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte this weekend, as the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles take on the 20th-ranked Duke Blue Devils at Bank of America Stadium.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles completed a dominant regular season with a 37-7 blasting of the Florida Gators last weekend to finish up at 12-0. Florida State's spot in the ACC title game was secured several weeks ago with an Atlantic Division crown, but the team was able to ascend the Top 25 and move into the number one overall slot in the BCS rankings thanks to Alabama's stunning loss at Auburn last weekend.
Stunning is an appropriate word to describe Duke's magical season. David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils closed out the year with eight straight wins and captured the Coastal Division title with a thrilling 27-25 victory at North Carolina in the regular-season finale. Overall, Duke finished at 10-2, setting a school record for wins in a season. Cutcliffe was named the ACC Coach of the Year as a result.
It's awfully humbling," Cutcliffe said. "I've said it time and time again, we've got a terrific group of coaches in this league. But this is not an individual award -- this is a program honor because of the young men who prepared each and every week to the best of their abilities, and then played the games on Saturdays with tremendous effort. And certainly a great deal of credit goes to our staff, which has come to work each and every day with the desire to help make our program the best it can possibly be."
While a BCS bowl bid is up for grabs in this game, the outcome could mean far more to the Seminoles with a victory, as they will go on to play for a national title. Duke is fighting an obvious uphill battle, as the Blue Devils have never beaten the Seminoles in 18 previous encounters.
The key to the Blue Devils' attack this season is an unprecedented balance that has certainly not been the norm in Durham in the recent past. Duke comes into this title game averaging 33.7 ppg, with a great mix of the run (179.9 ypg) and the pass (242.4 ypg).
Duke is a flawless 9-0 with Anthony Boone as the starter under center this season. However, that doesn't mean that Cutcliffe is set on one player leading Duke's offense. On the contrary, the Blue Devils have excelled this season thanks to a two-headed monster at quarterback, with both Boone and Brandon Connette making plays.
Boone has completed an efficient 66.2 percent of his passes this season, for 1,695 yards, with 10 TD passes. Connette comes in at 61.8 percent accuracy, for 1,210 yards and 13 TD strikes, while adding another dimension with his legs, which have accounted for another 13 scores on the ground.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball for Duke, the likely target is junior wideout Jamison Crowder, who leads the Blue Devils by a wide margin in most statistics, with 88 catches, for 1,131 yards and seven TDs. He was named to the All-ACC First-Team.
The team lacks a workhorse in the backfield, but the combination of Jela Duncan (5.1 ypc, three TDs), Josh Snead (6.4 ypc), Juwan Thompson (5.0 ypc) and Connette has gotten the job done and kept foes from keying solely on the pass.
The offense is a notch or two above the defense in terms of productivity this season, although Duke has shown flashes of strong play on that side of the football in 2013. The team is allowing a decent 23.0 ppg and just under 400 yards of offense per outing (395.2).
The Blue Devils have been extremely active on defense and boast three players that have eclipsed the century mark in tackles in linebackers David Helton (114 stops) and Kelby Brown (101 tackles, 8.5 TFL, two INTs) and safety Jeremy Cash (109 tackles, four INTs). Cash and Brown were both All-ACC First-Team honorees. Senior end Kenny Anunike (64 tackles), is a force up front, leading the team in both TFL (13.5) and sacks (6).
FSU comes in as one of the nation's most productive offenses, averaging 53.7 ppg (second nationally) on 526.1 ypg (seventh nationally).
The Seminoles have raised the bar offensively this season thanks to the play of Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman has played like a seasoned veteran under center, having completed 68.8 percent of his passes, for 3,490 yards, with 35 TD passes against eight interceptions. he was recently named the ACC Rookie of the Year, as well as an All-ACC First-Team selection.
Fisher has enjoyed watching Winston develop this season.
"His competitiveness is ridiculous," Fisher said of Winston. "He's a competitor. Nothing fazes that guy. He thrives on that...The guy's ability to learn and process information is what puts him over the top. He can think. He understands what he's doing at all times. And when he makes a mistake, he can come off and tell you exactly why he did it, what he did or didn't do right."
It has definitely been a huge bonus to have one of the nation's premier offensive lines in front of him and perhaps the nation's top receiving corps to throw to. Wideouts Rashad Greene (61 catches, 914 yards, 9 TDs), Kenny Shaw (48 catches, 855 yards, 5 TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (45 catches, 838 yards, 12 TDs) all have the ability to take over games, as evidenced by Benjamin's three-TD performance against Florida last week.
"Tremendous," Fisher said of Benjamin. "KB has real advantages with his size, speed and athleticism. He can be a very, very special player, and he's starting to develop into that guy."
At over 200 yards rushing per game, the ground attack is every bit as lethal as the passing attack for FSU. The Seminoles have a three-pronged rushing attack, with Devonta Freeman (852 yards, 5.9 ypc, 12 TDs), Karlos Williams (650 yards, 8.2 ypc, 10 TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (517 yards, 7.1 ypc, 8 TDs) all making plays as they rotate in and out of the backfield.
To say that Florida State has excelled on defense would be an understatement. FSU currently leads the nation in scoring defense (11.0), pass defense (153.0), interceptions (23), rushing touchdowns allowed (four) and defensive touchdowns (eight), ranks second in pass defense efficiency (93.53), third in third-down conversion defense (.295) and fourth in total defense (271.0).
There are playmakers throughout the FSU defense, although it is linebacker Telvin Smith (team-high 67 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INTs and 2 fumble recoveries) and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (60 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5,0 sacks, 1 INT and three forced fumbles) who have played at an All-American level this season. Joyner was an All-ACC First-Team selection.