Tallahassee, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - With their conference slate over, the second-ranked Florida State Seminoles close out their regular season with a pair of non-league matchups, starting with this weekend's home date against the Idaho Vandals.
Jimbo Fisher's squad has won the ACC's Atlantic Division with a perfect 8-0 league record after last weekend's 59-3 drubbing of Syracuse. As a result of their division crown, the Seminoles will get the opportunity to defend their conference title from last year in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 7. At number two in the major polls and the BCS rankings, FSU will play for the national title in Pasadena on Jan. 6, should the team win its next three games.
Paul Petrino's first season in Moscow has been a tough one. The Idaho Vandals come into this contest with a five-game losing streak in tow and have won just once this season, a 26-24 victory over Temple. Most recently, the Vandals were humbled by FCS foe Old Dominion (59-38) on Nov. 9. Following this game, Idaho closes out the 2013 season at New Mexico State.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
The Vandals have certainly had their problems competing this season, ranking 112th nationally in scoring offense (18.8 ppg). Sustaining drives has been a particular sore spot, with the team converting just 35 percent of the time on third down.
Petrino has searched for answers under center, but it is senior Taylor Davis that has gotten the nod of late. Davis has played in six games this season and has completed just 45.9 percent of his passes, for a mere 854 yards, with six TDs and three INTs. Freshman Chad Chalich has played in one more game than Davis and has completed 61.4 percent of his throws, for 1,224 yards and five TDs.
Regardless of who is pulling the trigger, wideout Dezmon Epps is usually the target. The 5-foot-10 junior leads the team in all receiving categories, with 66 catches, for 811 yards and four TDs.
Compounding the problem for Idaho is the fact that the defense has struggled to stop anyone. The Vandals rank 122nd out of 123 FBS programs in scoring defense (45.7 ppg) and are 121st in total defense (522.9 ypg). With just 16 sacks and 14 takeaways in 10 games thus far, Idaho just hasn't made enough plays on the defensive side of the ball.
Still, junior LB Marc Millan has done his best to keep the unit competitive. He has a team-high 78 total tackles, with 8.0 TFL and 4.0 sacks. Junior safety Bradley Njoku is a close second with 76 stop. Junior end Maxx Forde (51 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and senior tackle QuayShawne Buckley (36 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks) have contributed along the defensive line.
If Idaho was unable to shut down Old Dominion, there is little chance of stopping Florida State, which is one of the nation's top offensive squads. The Seminoles rank second nationally in scoring (52.7 ppg) and eighth in total offense (521.2 ypg).
It starts with redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston, who has put his name in the Heisman race with a terrific season. The 6-4 youngster has completed 70.9 percent of his passes this season, for 2,938 yards, with 28 TDs against seven INTs.
He has a deep and talented receiving corps at his disposal, headlined by wideouts Rashad Greene (54 catches, 860 yards, nine TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (33 catches, 565 yards, seven TDs) and tight end Nick O'Leary (26 catches, 444 yards, seven TDs). The backfield is equally deep, as tailbacks Devonta Freeman (679 yards, 10 TDs), Karlos Williams (522 yards, eight TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (369 yards, seven TDs) all bring something different to the table.
What makes the whole offense work however, is one of the nation's top offensive lines, with All-American caliber talent throughout.
The FSU defense is just as good as the offense and that is a scary thing for the opposition. Florida State ranks third nationally in scoring defense (11.1 ppg), first in pass defense (143.5 ypg) and interceptions (18) and fourth in total defense (271.4 ypg).
The squad is highlighted by All-American candidates in seniors Telvin Smith and Lamarcus Joyner. Smith leads the team in tackles (60), with 7.5 TFL, one sack and one interception from his linebacker position. Joyner is one of the nation's top DBs, posting 51 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles.
Fisher likes that his defense is peaking at the right time.
"(They're) playing extremely well," said Fisher after the Syracuse game. "They're playing very disciplined - flying to the ball, creating turnovers. (We) have a lot of athletic guys that are also big guys that are being very physical and very disciplined in how they're playing."