What can stop Florida State now?
The Seminoles wiped Clemson out on national television on Oct. 19 and then were gifted with last week's Stanford win against Oregon. That Nov. 7 upset secured Florida State's hold on No. 2 in the Bowl Champion Series standings.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's less-than-perfect performance also elevated Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston as the Heisman front-runner.
Florida State (9-0) controls its fate to the BCS title game with a row of clay pigeons left to shoot down on its schedule. Saturday's home game against Syracuse starts the countdown clock to the BCS title game Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.
Florida State's opponent in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game could be — get this — Duke!
The future is candy canes and rainbows and …uh-oh, this just in: Winston has been linked to a sexual criminal complaint filed last December.
Top programs don't mind national publicity, but the one outlet you don't want working your beat is TMZ Sports.
Winston's situation is what we call a potential "game changer." You try to plan around unforeseen events such as injuries, but it's hard to prepare for certain out-of-nowhere bombshells.
What happens next could have a profound effect on Florida State's championship run. Serious charges levied could lead to Winston's suspension — and no one player in the nation is more valuable to his team.
The details are murky and Winston's lawyer is denying any wrongdoing. However, the case is open, so we know it's not yet open and shut.
Winston is expected to start Saturday's game and there is no reason, yet, to panic. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Winston has taken every rep in practice and offered that being successful comes with a certain level of "clutter."
Florida State isn't the first school that has had to deal with serious off-field distractions during a championship run. Florida State dealt with one during its last title run, in 1999.
That was the year star receiver Peter Warrick was suspended during the season for taking player-friendly discounts at a local department store.
Coach Bobby Bowden was a master at making people laugh during a crisis. "I'm praying for a misdemeanor," he said.
And Bowden got it.
Warrick was deeply remorseful once he moved past his knee-jerk response: "It's not like I shot the president." Warrick received a two-game suspension and endured some vicious invectives in rival stadiums.
The incident cost Warrick the Biletnikoff Award, and maybe the Heisman, but Florida State won the national title with Bowden's only undefeated season.
Florida State hopes the Winston story is just another blip.
Off-field problems have been overrated in terms of dream derailments.
In 1995, Lawrence Phillips was a huge distraction for Nebraska. The star tailback was convicted of misdemeanor assault on his ex-girlfriend in September of that year.
Coach Tom Osborne kicked Phillips off the team but reinstated the tailback after a six-game suspension. By the time Nebraska rolled into the title game against Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, Phillips was back in the starting lineup.
Phillips ran for 165 yards in Nebraska's 62-24 win. Osborne absorbed tremendous national criticism for playing Phillips but never wavered in his decision.
In 2002, freshman star Maurice Clarett was also a huge pain in the backfield during Ohio State's 14-0 run to its only BCS title.
During title-game week, again at the Fiesta Bowl, Clarett ripped Ohio State officials for not allowing him to return to Columbus to attend the funeral of a friend.
"I guess football's more important than a person's life to them," Clarett huffed at his mandatory news conference in advance of the game. Despite the distraction, Ohio State upset Miami to win the title.
Clarett eventually ditched school and ended up in jail, but Ohio State's title was not affected.
Another unforeseen curveball, in 2010, worked out fine for quarterback Cam Newton and Auburn.
A potential season-wrecking story emerged in November that alleged Newton's father, Cecil, had shopped his son to Mississippi State for money.
Auburn's magical season and Newton's Heisman Trophy hopes would have been in serious jeopardy if it could be proved Auburn was somehow involved. But Auburn was never implicated.
Cecil's solicitation of his son's services was an NCAA violation. Auburn quietly declared Newton ineligible on Nov. 30 and the NCAA reinstated him the next day.
Newton won the Heisman and Auburn finished an unbeaten season with a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS title game.
Bottom Line: Florida State just needs to keep playing until this thing plays out.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times