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Unwanted Florida State and baggage arrive on Pasadena's doorstep

Florida State Seminoles, who appear to thrive on 'bad guys' image, arrive for national semifinal in Pasadena

They are swooping down upon Pasadena this week like Santa Ana winds in October.

They irritate. They agitate. They make blood boil. They make skin crawl. Face it, they just arrived and we can't wait for them to leave.

But, like it or not, the Florida State Seminoles are a force of nature and, for at least the next couple of days while they compete in the Rose Bowl national semifinal against Oregon, Grandaddy is just going to have to cover his sad eyes and deal with it.

“Everybody is trying to put a label on us, trying to find every way to make us seem like the bad guys,” defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said this week.

One doesn't really have to try too hard.

Their quarterback, Jameis Winston, has been the subject of a rape allegation, the recipient of a theft citation, and was finally suspended for one game for standing in the middle of campus and shouting misogynist slang for a sexual act.

One of their running backs, Karlos Williams, was in the starting lineup at the same time he was named in two different criminal investigations.

Over the last three years, according to the New York Times, at least nine Seminoles players have been arrested on suspicion of a variety of crimes, more than a dozen Seminoles players have been implicated in incidents involving high-powered BB guns, and the Tallahassee Police Department has often looked the other way.

Their coach, Jimbo Fisher, has been fiercely protective of his players to the point of enabling them, and he has become a national symbol for everything wrong with college sports leadership.

The Florida State administration has seemed reluctant to hold its cash cow accountable, particularly in the botched rape investigation involving Winston, leading to the perception of the university as an academic joke.

But the Seminoles win. Man, do they win. Fearlessly, frustratingly, raising the hair on the back of your arm and making you want to poke out your eyeballs, they win.

They have won 29 consecutive games dating back two years. These wins included last season's national championship comeback victory over Auburn in the Rose Bowl, and numerous comebacks this season.

They trailed with six minutes remaining against Clemson and won. They trailed by 10 points in the second half against North Carolina State and won. They trailed Louisville, 21-0, and won. Notre Dame had them beat, but the would-have-been winning touchdown was called back on a bogus penalty. Miami was beating them with three minutes left in the game, and lost. Boston College was tied with three seconds remaining, and lost.

Every week — outside of Tallahassee — it became sort of a national obsession to gather around television sets in the final minutes of a Florida State game to watch them lose. Yet the more they were reviled, the greater they were inspired. The more they were urged to stumble, the higher they soared.

And thus, every week most of America was greatly, gravely disappointed. And now the Seminoles and their immense baggage have arrived in Pasadena for a national semifinal against the lovable-by-comparison Oregon Ducks.

“We know everybody wants us to lose. We know we're the team that everybody hates,'' cornerback P.J. Williams said this year, and it's more true now than ever.

Can you imagine a defending national champion and only unbeaten major college team being seeded only third in the new four-team playoffs and forced to travel across the country for their playoff game, while once-beaten Alabama stays near home at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans?

Can you imagine a team with a former Heisman Trophy winner, numerous pro prospects, and a title win in this same Rose Bowl stadium being an 81/2-point underdog?

“We've got all kind of chips on our shoulders,” Winston said.

Darn it. Just as everyone suspected. This is a team that thrives not on love, but enmity, doubt and maybe even a little fear.

Winston was asked whether he realized most of America wanted his team to lose, and he smiled and sort of winked.

“It doesn't matter what people want, we can't give people what they want all the time,” he said.

Fisher was asked whether he thought his players felt as if it was Florida State against the world, and he also smiled.

“I think they think it's us against us,” he said.

It turns out, the forces that have conspired to shred these Seminoles have only made them stronger. We hate, they huddle. We stomp, they survive.

“Our will to win is very strong,” said Winston. “We can persevere and come back. [Teammates] have got my back, and they know I've got their back.”

OK, how about this? What if everyone suddenly rallied around the Seminoles, applauded their professionalism, admired their campus unity, defended their mistakes as poor-immature-kids-in-the-spotlight stuff, even engaged in that incredibly annoying and socially inappropriate tomahawk chant thingy?

Nah. Winston shakes his head. He isn't buying it.

“Perception is reality,” he said. And the reality is that while common sense says it will be a close game, the heart says Oregon by 50.

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