TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The team had just arrived home, fresh off another dominant win, its 14th straight. Florida State had secured a perfect regular season, set a date with Duke in the ACC championship game, and coach Jimbo Fisher flipped on the radio in his pickup to listen to the final moments of the Auburn-Alabama game on his ride home.
Perhaps he shouted or cheered or pumped his fist when Auburn’s Chris Davis dashed into the end zone on the game’s final play, unseating Alabama atop the BCS standings and effectively installing Fisher’s Seminoles as the nation’s new top dog. But if he did, Fisher certainly wouldn’t admit to it now.
When pressed Sunday about whether things have changed for Florida State now that it’s No. 1, Fisher offered the same stoic assurance he’s preached all season.
“Not one bit,” he said.
A year ago, the Seminoles collapsed in the fourth quarter against Florida, and even an ACC title and an Orange Bowl win weren’t enough to erase the disappointment of two games Florida State had let slip away.
Since then, everything has changed, but the transformation has come through unwavering consistency.
Florida State’s 37-7 win Saturday over Florida was as emphatic as each of the 11 others this season. The Seminoles have won every game by at least two touchdowns, and a reserved approach in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday proved the only impediment to reaching 40 points, a mark they achieved every previous game this fall.
Before the season, critics wondered what middling opponent would stifle Fisher’s plans this time, but it turned out, this really was a different Florida State team.
“We've been able to focus, not pay attention to the outside things and worry about anything,” Fisher said. “We can't worry about where we're ranked and what goes on. We've just got to worry about preparing and playing, and that's all we tell our guys, and hopefully we can do that at least one more week right here.”
This week is the conference championship game against Duke, a team that has never beaten Florida State -- never even come within 19 points of a win -- in 18 tries. But where past teams would have chalked up the game as an easy win, this season's Seminoles haven’t fallen into that trap.
It has been six weeks since Florida State was favored by fewer than three touchdowns in a game, and it has won each one by at least 27.
“It never left their head,” Fisher said of his one-week-at-a-time mantra. “It doesn’t worry about the results. It doesn’t worry about the outcome. It doesn’t worry about what we have in front of us. It’s a very mature group.”
It’s a group that knows Fisher’s process well, not just as coachspeak that’s been regurgitated, but as a sincere belief in what it takes to win.
When Fisher took over as coach four years ago, he came with a five-year plan to revitalize the program. He stocked a roster with so much talent, it could lose 11 players to the NFL draft and get better the following season. He installed a system so thoroughly self-sufficient that FSU could lose six assistant coaches in one offseason and not miss a beat.
It was a plan that took time to implement, but Fisher never wavered in his belief that it would succeed.
“It’s exactly where we want to be and hoping we’d be at,” Fisher said Sunday, just before Florida State officially rose to No. 1 in the BCS standings.
At 12-0, Fisher can say that his team hasn’t been sheltered from the ongoing legal drama surrounding star quarterback Jameis Winston, but also why it hasn’t been shaken by it.
As a four-touchdown favorite this week, Fisher still preaches the same thing he has all year, and his players will believe.
At No. 1 in the BCS, Fisher could shrug off Florida State’s status as front-runners, ignoring a finish line that seems so easily within reach.
His program has come a long way, but Fisher is not interested in looking back any more than he wants to look ahead.
“We play next week, then we get a break to see what bowl game we want to play in,” Fisher said. “I’m really proud of the way they approach everything, the way we practice, the way we handle things.”