TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 17-year drought at Florida State is one of the more inexplicable streaks in sports.
Warrick Dunn breezed to 1,180 rushing yards his senior season in 1996, and while few Seminoles fans expected to see another back quite as dynamic as Dunn, it wasn’t hard to envision a slew of runners following in his footsteps and marching well past 1,000.
And yet, for 17 years and for myriad reasons, it hasn’t happened. No school in the country has a longer active streak.
Of course, this year was supposed to be different. Sure, 2000 and 2002 and 2004 and, heck, even 2012 were supposed to be different, too, but they weren’t. But everything about this season has felt different for Florida State, felt like the good old days when Dunn roamed the sideline, and really, it would’ve taken a catastrophe to keep Devonta Freeman from finally, mercifully putting the streak to an end. Right?
Three weeks ago, Freeman was the workhorse against Miami, carrying a career-high 23 times for 78 yards, bringing his season rushing total to 639. With six more games to play -- including predicted blowouts against Wake Forest, Syracuse and, this week’s opponent, Idaho -- 1,000 was well within reach.
The former prediction has lived up to its billing. Florida State beat Wake and Syracuse by a combined 118-6, and is a 56-point favorite against Idaho on Saturday. The latter, on the other hand, is proving more elusive.
Florida State has won its last two games by such a massive margin that Freeman’s role all but disappeared. He carried the ball just 10 times in the two games, for a total of just 40 yards. After the Miami win, he needed to average just 60 yards per game to reach 1,000 -- a total he’d topped six times already this year. Now, he'll have to average 75.
“I think Free’s gonna get it, man,” said fellow tailback James Wilder Jr., who’d entered the season dreaming of 1,000 yards himself, only to see injuries wreak havoc on the quest. “I’m rooting for him the whole way.”
Wilder is healthy now, and he's gotten some short-yardage carries that might’ve gone to Freeman earlier in the season. Karlos Williams has taken the bulk of the second-half carries in the recent blowout wins. For the year, Freeman has just 12 carries (for 29 yards) in the fourth quarter -- a third of which came in the Miami game.
Last year, Freeman averaged 5.9 yards per carry -- a rate that would’ve gotten him to 1,000 with just 13 carries per game. This season, his average has dipped just a tad, to 5.7 yards per rush. He’s been far more explosive in the passing game (218 yards) and he’s already topped his career high in touchdowns (11 total, 10 on the ground), but it’s those 13 carries a game have proven problematic. So far this year, he’s averaged 12 per game, and in the past two blowouts, he’s averaged just five.
“The last couple games, it’s just been the way it’s fallen out,” Jimbo Fisher said. “But we’ve still got four ballgames left, a lot of ball left to play.”
Freeman isn’t Florida State’s only star in search of a record, though. He’s just in search of the most high-profile one.
Jameis Winston is on pace for 39 touchdown passes, which would dwarf FSU’s previous season high of 33, set by Chris Weinke in 2000. Of course, like Freeman, Winston’s workload has been limited by success. He's thrown just 18 fourth-quarter passes this year.
Eleven years have passed since Florida State last had a 1,000-yard receiver (Anquan Boldin in 2002), and the Seminoles have never had a runner and receiver crack that mark in the same year. This season, however, Rashad Greene (860 through 10 games), Kenny Shaw (721) and Kelvin Benjamin (565) all have a chance at 1,000. Greene, who needs just 35 yards per game the rest of the way, seems like a near lock.
“If that can go within our team goals, and we can reach everything, I think it’s great,” Fisher said. “I have a lot of respect for [Greene] and I’m hoping for it.”
But hope doesn’t put the ball in a receiver’s hands or earn a tailback a few extra carries. The statistical goals are about opportunity, and during FSU’s run of blowouts this year, those opportunities have been a bit too rare.
Shaw, who is on pace for 1,009 receiving yards, is a fine example. The senior has topped 89 yards receiving in a game six times this season, but he’s never gone past 100. Last week against Syracuse, Shaw was stuck on 99 when one final pass came his way. He was tackled at the line of scrimmage, though, and 99 is where he stayed. There's a strange bit of luck involved too, and that's been the great variable for Florida State over the years.
Yes, this season is different -- and maybe too different. Florida State is the only team in the country to win all its games by at least 14 points. If the streaks continues for another year, the ultimate irony might be that it did so because Freeman and Co. were simply too good.