Relieved Florida State Moves on to Playoff

Seminoles conclude a long regular season with another unbeaten record

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Relief. You could see it written all over the faces of Florida State’s players and coaches after the Seminoles 37-35 win over Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.

You could see it when head coach Jimbo Fisher tossed his head back and raised his arms while standing on the award ceremony stage after the game. You could see it when he sat down for postgame interviews and leaned back in a rare show of relaxation and satisfaction from the high-intensity coach.

Many of the players looked like they had taken muscle relaxers, with all the stress and tension having left their faces and the proverbial burden having dropped from their shoulders. (Note to the New York Times: I am not suggesting those players actually took muscle relaxers, just that they looked like they had.)

It is extremely difficult to go unbeaten, and it’s far more difficult to do it twice in a row. The stress and pressure of sustaining a long win streak builds with each additional win, as protecting the streak demands constant focus, while each successive team wants all the more to be the team that breaks the streak.

The 2013-2014 Miami Heat, who had a 27-game win streak, consistently talked about what a “grind” it was to try to sustain that streak—and win a third straight NBA title. "I don't think anybody really enjoyed this season like in years past," Heat star Chris Bosh told The Associated Press after the season. "There was no, like, genuine joy all the time. It seemed like work. It was a job the whole year. Winning was just a relief.”

The Seminoles echoed those sentiments in postgame interviews Saturday night. “I felt like a burden came off this team, I really did,” Fisher said, “because I saw them loosen up.” Jameis Winston concurred, “we've got a burden off our shoulder[s] … because we want to win a championship.”

Florida State all season as the Seminoles have tried to live up to the expectations they brought into the year after putting in one of the most dominant seasons in college football history in 2013. From start to finish, anything short of a playoff appearance would have been a massive disappointment for this team.

Like a defending NBA champion in the middle of the long regular season, Florida State looked bored at times. They also took every team’s best shot and were frequently staggered by body blows, refusing to go down to the canvas and staying on their feet by sheer force of will.

Last season was a joyous romp. This season has been a grind, a 13-round prize fight to get to this point. They fought through numerous injuries—including yet another in Eddie Goldman’s ankle injury early in the game. They fought through an off-field circus the likes of which I’ve never seen at the college level. They took the best shot of each team they played and finished the fight every time. Now they’ve finished the regular season and are poised to take their place in the College Football Playoff.

Now the pressure is off. Instead of being the team everyone expected to be there, this is now the team that has been disrespected and dismissed despite the 29-game win streak. Instead of biding their time and fighting through yet another obstacle on their way to the playoff. Now the pressure of not getting back is gone.

“I just feel like we could play looser now,” said running back Dalvin Cook. The season is over with, … we're just going out playing Florida State football and we just relax and we're just playing ball, that's it.”

Winston agreed, “I think we prepare better when it's playing against like playoff games or big-time games because we've got a different attitude.”

They’ve won every other way. Now it’s going to be interesting to see how this team plays when they’re fresh and loose. We’ll get to see in just under a month.

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