KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
SITE: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
AP RANKINGS: Maryland No. 25, Florida State No. 8
KEYS TO THE GAME
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to throw the stat out the window about the Seminoles' six straight wins against Maryland in advance of this week's mammoth ACC and top-25 matchup between the two undefeated teams.
"It's going to be a great game," he said Monday.
And that's something Fisher will be saying a lot over the next month.
Saturday against No. 25 Maryland will kick off a ridiculously tough stretch of three games during the next four weeks that will either make or break the season for the No. 8 Seminoles, who have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and may very well be on the path to a second straight ACC title and spot in a BCS bowl -- maybe even the big one -- if they're able to survive each test.
It starts with the surprisingly dangerous 4-0 Terrapins, who were picked to finish second to last in the ACC's Atlantic Division but have emerged as one of the conference's top teams. Then the focus shifts two weeks later to an Oct. 19 showdown at No. 3 Clemson, where Florida State hasn't won a game in more than a decade. A Nov. 2 duel at home with rival and No. 14 Miami will then await FSU (4-0 overall, 2-0 in the ACC), which could easily be ranked as high as No. 3 by the time the dust settles -- should they emerge unscathed, of course.
But there is always danger in looking ahead. Just ask the 2012 Seminoles, who certainly overlooked N.C. State last season and saw their No. 3 ranking and perfect 6-0 record go up in flames following a second-half meltdown that ended in a 17-16 loss, altering the course of their otherwise promising season.
And that's why Fisher can't afford to have his team thinking beyond Maryland, which is playing its conference opener Saturday and boasts the ACC's No. 2 offense and defense -- two statistics that shouldn't surprise anybody, the coach said.
"They have good players. I learned in this game -- you never know. I don't listen to those preseason polls," Fisher said of Maryland being picked by media members to finish fifth out of six teams during the ACC Football Kickoff event in July. "(Head coach) Randy Edsall is a heck of a football coach. ... It doesn't surprise me (they're 4-0 and ranked 25th).
"In every conference standing, they're (No.) one or two in every statistical category across the board, playing very good football."
The same could be same for Florida State, which is just ahead of Maryland in the ACC's total offense category at No. 1 and just behind the Terrapins on defense at No. 4. It also doesn't hurt that FSU has Winston, the teenage phenom from Bessemer, Ala., who has lived up to every bit of the hype that began as the nation's former No. 1 high school QB recruit and has only gotten bigger.
"It's amazing playing with a guy like that," Seminoles leading receiver Kenny Shaw, a senior, said of his 19-year-old quarterback, who started earning nicknames like "Famous Jameis" and "The Chosen One" after the first pass of his FSU career in the spring game went for a 58-yard touchdown. He has slowly added to that growing legend with plays like his 55-yard touchdown pass to Shaw with no time left on the clock before halftime of last week's 48-34 win at Boston College. In that game, the Eagles went ahead early, 17-3, before watching helplessly as Winston led the Florida State offense to 35 unanswered points, including four Winston TD passes.
Winston finished 17 of 28 for 330 yards and four scores, and he also ran 14 times for a team-high 67 yards, earning ACC Player of the Week honors.
"(Jameis) did a great job of keeping his eyes up, finding throws or making decisions to run. That is a reaction," Fisher said his young QB's advanced skillset. "You had to read coverage and take what they give you, and you had to react. That's poise under pressure, and he did a nice job of that."
Through the first four games of his college career, Winston has broken nearly every school record for the best start by a freshman quarterback and is currently the nation's second-most efficient passer, all while leading the NCAA's fourth-ranked scoring offense (51.2 points per game). His counterpart, Maryland's C.J. Brown, may be just as dangerous. He leads the ACC in total offense and rushing touchdowns, and his top wideout is a recruit Fisher once tried to lure to Florida State - five-star prospect Stephon Diggs, who is averaging a conference-best 22 yards a catch.
And while oddsmakers seem to think this game will be another cakewalk for the Seminoles -- making them 16-point favorites -- Florida State's defense regressed last week when it yielded 34 points to a Boston College team that came in with the nation's 106th-ranked scoring offense. Couple that with the fact that FSU has not yet faced a defense as good as Maryland's -- the Terps are sixth nationally and are coming off a 37-0 shutout of West Virginia -- and Edsall seems to agree with Fisher about this game being truly "great."
Edsall also knows, just like most of the rest of FSU's opponents this season, facing the Seminoles may be his team's toughest test all year.
"We've got a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge as we head down to Tallahassee to take on Florida State," Edsall said Tuesday of FSU, before turning his attention to what the Terps must do to be the first team to stop Winston. "He is just a very good player. ... He's a guy that has the ability to throw the ball and has the ability to do something with his feet. When you get that type of quarterback, it makes the job very difficult for the defense."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Junior DT Timmy Jernigan is coming on. Every week, when an opposing coach is asked what worries him about FSU's defense, Jernigan's name comes up. The 6-2, 292-pound front-line menace was part of an sub-par effort by the defense last week against Boston College, which ran wild on the Seminoles for 200 yards -- including 149 by Andre Williams, the ACC's leading rusher. The thing that concerns Seminole fans isn't that they gave up 149 to the conference's best running back, it's that FSU knew Boston College was going to try to run down its throat -- and the Seminoles still couldn't stop it. Enter Jernigan, who may be the key to FSU having a rebound performance this week. Jernigan hasn't exactly been lighting it up the stat sheet so far -- he's sixth on the team in tackles with 15 -- but look for a monster game from the renowned run-stopper Saturday because Maryland isn't nearly as efficient at rushing as the Eagles are. The Terps are seventh in the conference in rushing TDs and sixth in rushing attempts.
--This is junior WR Christian Green's week to break out. Through four games, it feels like Green (6-2, 200) is sliding more and more into oblivion. He was part of a tight four-man starting rotation at wideout coming into the season and was considered as good of an option as any of the other three starters (senior Kenny Shaw, junior Rashad Greene and sophomore Kelvin Benjamin). But Green has only five catches for 41 yards and no scores. Maryland isn't going to let FSU's three playmakers -- Shaw (18 catches, 370 yards, two TDs), Greene (19 catches, 299 yards, five TDs) and Benjamin (12 catches, 239 yards, one TD) -- beat them, so expect more double teams this week on FSU's leading trio. That means Winston should have Green in one-on-one coverage most of the day.
--P Cason Beatty is struggling a bit -- averaging just 40 yards a kick against Boston College -- and the special teams gave up several big returns to the Eagles. FSU worked to correct those mistakes this week, and Fisher said he plans to "move some people around" to see if a different lineup brings better results. But the one area he won't be making a change at is kicker. Freshman Roberto Aguayo is 33 of 33 combined on field goals and PATs thus far, and he broke the school record last week for consecutive makes to start a career. He is also tied for first in scoring in the ACC with an average of 11.8 points per game.
--QB C.J. Brown is averaging 15.8 yards per completion, the best mark in the ACC and a figure that ranks seventh nationally. Brown is getting it done on the ground, too. He had 122 yards rushing against UConn, a season high for all ACC quarterbacks. Brown leads the ACC with 331.5 yards of total offense per game, a total that ranks 12th nationally.
--RB Brandon Ross' 83.0 yards rushing per game leads the Terps, and a big day from him means Maryland can move the ball against the Seminoles and keep some of the heat off Brown.
--WR Stefon Diggs leads the team with 18 catches and 400 yards receiving. His 22.2 yards per catch is the highest average in the ACC. He is coming off his lowest production game of the season, with just two catches for 13 yards against West Virginia.
--NT Darius Kilgo had eight tackles against UConn and has been a rock in the middle all season. He's the focal point for controlling the FSU running game, and he also has two sacks this season.
--WLB Marcus Whitfield is tied for sixth in the nation with 5.5 total sacks. He had three against UConn, the most for a Terp since Shawne Merriman had three against North Carolina in 2002. Maryland's 17 sacks are tied for the most in the country.
--CB Will Likely gets his second start in a row, the true freshman stepping in for injured senior Dexter McDougle. The Noles will try to attack the 5-7 Likely and the other corner, senior Isaac Goins, who also began the season as a backup.
--PK Brad Craddock has hit 10-of-11 field-goal attempts this year and has seemed to grow steadier in each game. He equaled a career high with three field goals in the win over WVU, including a 50-yarder in the rain. Craddock has been getting help from former Ravens K Matt Stover, who has worked on the sophomore's technique to make the former Australian Rules footballer more consistent. "You can see a lot more focus, a lot more confidence in what he's doing," Edsall said of his kicker, who nearly lost his job to freshman Adam Greene in preseason camp.