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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the second straight year Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles have had highly publicized off-field issues involving quarterback Jameis Winston overshadow their preparations for the ACC championship.
But the Seminoles' eighth-year coach downplayed any potential distractions for his team during a press conference on Friday.
Though his Heisman Trophy winning quarterback spent two days at a university student code of conduct hearing that could determine his future at Florida State, Fisher said Winston had "one of his best weeks of practice ever."
"I think everything in time will work itself out," said Fisher, adding he expects Winston will still be enrolled in school and eligible to play beyond Saturday night's game in Charlotte.
If the second-ranked Seminoles (12-0, 8-0 ACC, No. 4 CFP) beat No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2 ACC, No. 11 CFP), they're expected to secure one of four spots in the first ever College Football Playoff.
The hearing was to determine whether Winston violated any or all of four sections of the student code of conduct, including two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment. The hearing took place approximately two years after a female student said Winston sexually assaulted her in December 2012.
No decision was rendered and no definitive timetable was given on when the case will be resolved.
The Seminoles moved one practice this week to later in the evening to accommodate Winston — a change Fisher said he and his coaching staff liked so much they might consider making permanent in the future.
But Fisher said otherwise it has been business as usual.
Heading into last year's ACC championship game, the Seminoles also were dealing with an off-field situation stemming from sexual assault allegations against Winston that ultimately resulted in the university hearing.
Two days before the 2013 game a prosecutor declined to press charges against Winston in the criminal investigation of the woman's allegations, citing a lack of evidence. The legal proceedings didn't seem to be a problem for Winston, who threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another to lead Florida State to the ACC championship with a 45-7 rout of Duke.
"I think our kids understand that you control what you can control," Fisher said. "We try to teach these kids there are only so many things in life you can focus on and only so many you can control."
Some things to watch from the ACC championship game:
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Georgia Tech ranks 12th in the country with 27 takeaways this season, including 17 off interceptions. So they're hoping they can pressure Winston — who had four interceptions against Florida — into some mistakes. "If you ask me if we would take four, yeah, we would," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Hopefully he didn't get them all out of his system."
KEEP ON RUNNING: The Yellow Jackets have run for more yards than any other FBS team in the nation since Johnson brought his spread option attack to Georgia Tech in 2008. During that span the Yellow Jackets have run for 28,277 yards — or 16.066 miles — and averaged a whopping 307.35 yards per game.
HE'S REALLY COOKING: Freshman running back Dalvin Cook has emerged as a top threat down the stretch for the Seminoles with senior Karlos Williams unable to play due to a concussion. The 6-foot, 200-pound Cook topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the third time with career-high 144 yards in Saturday's 24-19 win over Florida. Johnson said Cook is a concern because he has great speed and catches the ball well.
A GAME OF THIRD DOWNS: One of Georgia Tech's strengths is controlling the football and they do it through converting third-down opportunities. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation converting more than 50 percent of their third down opportunities, which allows them to chew up the clock and wear down opponents. Johnson said he'd like to have about eight possessions a game and figures Florida State would like to have more than twice that many.
DON'T DOUBT THOMAS: Much of the attention surrounding this matchup will be on Winston trying to lead his team to a second straight ACC title — and national championship — but don't forget about Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas. He has quietly put up a passing efficiency rating of 154.31, which would lead the ACC and rank 13th nationally if he had enough attempts to qualify. His 861 yards rushing yards ranks fifth in the ACC.