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Team balance a remarkable strength for Florida State

The SportsXchange

Tired and clearly under the weather, a weary-looking Jimbo Fisher had an interesting way of telling the media from the outset of his weekly press conference Monday that he only wanted questions to be asked about football -- and not the possible legal trouble facing Florida State star quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Jameis Winston.

"If not," the coach sniffled and coughed through a smile, "I'll sneeze on ya."

Fisher should be fine by kickoff Saturday against Idaho (1-9) as No. 2 FSU continues its march to the BCS crown.

The same, however, may not be true about Winston, depending on whether the Florida state attorney's office investigating a recently re-opened 2012 sexual assault probe involving the redshirt freshman decides to file charges as soon as this week. On the other hand, Winston may also be cleared well before the time the Seminoles and Vandals put the ball in the air at Doak Campbell Stadium for FSU's final home game of the season.

Either way, Fisher said his confidence in Winston is unchanged.

"I've been impressed with Jameis," Fisher said when asked how he felt his 19-year-old quarterback has handled the past seven days since news broke last Wednesday that the once-dormant case -- which Winston's attorney claims had been closed 11 months ago by the Tallahassee Police Department -- was curiously re-opened by the state attorney.

"We always address everything. You've got to know what's going on, no matter what the situations are, and I think that's an important part of being a good team is being able to focus and control things that you can control and deal with the other issues when it's time to deal with them. That's part of maturity.

"(He's not acting like a) redshirt freshman."

With the ACC's Atlantic Division title already locked up, Winston's numbers through Florida State's first 10 games -- all wins -- don't just back up Fisher's claim, they appear more than good enough to land Winston the nation's most coveted individual award. Las Vegas oddsmakers, who are no doubt monitoring Winston's legal situation, still feel comfortable enough with his status to currently have Winston as the overwhelming favorite to win the third Heisman in FSU program history (Charlie Ward-1993; Chris Weinke-2000).

Winston is the nation's second-most efficient passer leading FBS' No. 2-ranked scoring offense that's averaging nearly 53 points a game. He's a staggering 185 of 261 passing -- including two games in which he missed just two throws each -- for 2,938 yards and 28 touchdowns, and he's second in the NCAA in yards per attempt (11.3) and third in yards per completion (15.8).

But the program's sixth 10-0 start -- and first since FSU's 1999 national title season -- isn't all because of Winston.

The defense is again one of the best in all of college football (leading the nation in pass defense and interceptions), while FSU's running game, which averages almost 200 yards a game, has been paced all year by arguably the deepest, most talented backfield in the country.

Opposing coaches have used phrases like "in awe" and "three-headed monster" when describing juniors Devonta Freeman (679 yards, 10 TDs), James Wilder Jr. (369, seven) and Karlos Williams (522, eight), who was a safety to begin the season but was switched over to running back by Fisher after the first game and has since become the Seminoles' most explosive player. Add in the emergence of blazing freshman Kermit Whitfield, who Fisher says has "special" packages built just for him -- as evidence by Whitfield's misdirection sweep he took in for a 74-yard TD last week during a 59-3 rout of Syracuse -- and the offensive harmony has never been better for Florida State with the stretch run in front of it.

"We've just been pounding on the run, and if that don't work, we always have (Jameis) and the option to pass," FSU offensive lineman Josue Matias said. "If the pass don't work, we run it. We have good balance."

This doesn't exactly bode well for the visiting Vandals, an independent program that's collecting a large check ($950,000) to come to Tallahassee. Idaho is 2-20 in its last 22 games and has been blown out by an average of 30 points this year, including a 59-38 loss to lower-tiered FCS program Old Dominion last week. This will mark the Vandals' first trip to Florida. Likewise, FSU has never played a school from Idaho.

As 56-point favorites, which marks FSU's largest point spread of the season, this week's matchup doesn't expect to be the one that will derail the Seminoles' national title march. And provided Florida State wins its final three games -- vs. Idaho, at Florida next week and against an opponent yet to be determined in the Dec. 7 ACC championship in Charlotte, N.C. -- a Jan. 7 showdown in Pasadena, Calif., against No. 1 Alabama for the BCS national championship is looking more likely every day.

Fisher will be glad to answer any questions along the way about what's turned into one heck of a remarkable -- and interesting -- season. Just keep them about football.

Or else ...

"Or else I'll give y'all some of these germs," he grinned.

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

--Freshman RB/WR Levonte Whitfield is coming on down the stretch. Head coach Jimbo Fisher eluded in fall camp that by the end of the season, a newcomer everyone calls "Kermit" could make a big impact. And Fisher was right. Whitfield returned a kickoff 97 yards two weeks ago against Wake Forest for his first career score, and then last week in another blowout win against Syracuse, Whitfield was dynamite again, running 74 yards nearly untouched for one of the Seminoles' more thrilling touchdowns in a season full of them. Fisher gushed about Whitfield this week, and with the Seminoles playing an overmatched Idaho team this week, the Vandals may get a heavy dose of "Kermit" for a good portion of the game. "He works hard, he's extremely talented. He's so dynamic with the ball, and he's really getting a grasp on what we're doing," Fisher said. "He's a football player that runs track. He's a not a track guy that plays football - very strong, very physical, tremendous balance and body control, great change of direction with the ball in his hand and very instinctive."

--What in the world does senior WR Kenny Shaw, FSU's second-leading wideout with 721 yards in 10 games, have to do to get a 100-yard game in his final season in an FSU uniform? Shaw has -- get this -- receiving games of 94, 94, 89, 93, 96 and, last week, 99 yards against Syracuse. Instead of bemoaning not breaking 100 yards, Shaw simply puts his head down and is quietly FSU's most consistent wideout. He's also had the fewest drops on the team.

--Sophomore CB P.J. Williams gained a lot of attention this week when he was caught on camera playing a game of "Hangman" on a dry erase board with teammates Terrance Brooks and Jalen Ramsey toward the end of FSU's 56-point beatdown of Syracuse after the starters were pulled after halftime. Most fans from both programs found the footage of Williams and Co. passing the time with the age-old game amusing, and with one-win Idaho coming to town this weekend, Williams may be organizing games of duck-duck goose or tic-tac-toe by the end of the

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just think when that young man was injured, and I don't ever want to see anyone injured, it scared us. They said he had some internal injuries and he's fine now and all that, (but) I wanted to go by and make sure he was OK. We're all competitors, but at the end of the day, these are kids, they're somebody's baby. If that was one of my children, I would want someone to look out for them." -- FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher on why he chose to go to a Tallahassee hospital after the Seminoles' 59-3 win against Syracuse to visit injured Orange player Julian Whigham, who was rushed to the hospital with internal bleeding around his esophagus.
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