CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Heading into Saturday night, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he wouldn't allow his players to focus on anything other than the ACC title game against No. 20 Duke.
No Heisman Trophy talk for quarterback Jameis Winston. No national championship talk at all for the rest of the Seminoles.
Today, everything has changed. The Seminoles are free to discuss both subjects openly.
In the conference championship quest before the ultimate championship quest, No. 1 Florida State overcame a rocky start to earn yet another dominating win, 45-7 in front of 67,694 at Bank of America Stadium.
The victory assures FSU will play for the BCS national title Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. There, it will face Auburn, which beat Missouri 59-42 in the SEC title game and got the help it needed when Michigan State upset previously unbeaten Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten title game.
It will be the fourth title game for the Seminoles, who will be in search of their first win since the 1999 season.
Fisher, however, refused to get too excited. After all, the ultimate goal hasn't been accomplished.
"I'm going to keep the (emotions) in check because we're not champs," Fisher said.
Then he repeated the refrain, "We're not champs," several times, with his players chiming in — "yet."
The win, FSU's third in the ACC title game and which gave it its 14th overall conference title, represented the way FSU has played all season. The Seminoles (13-0) have scored 37 or more points in every game this season.
Winston overcame a slow start to finish 19-of-32 for 330 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions to earn most valuable player honors.
His performance included a 17-yard touchdown run — capped by leaping over a defender into the end zone — that made it 38-0 with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter.
With his 54-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the third quarter, Winston gave the Seminoles a 31-0 lead and set a Division I-A record for passing yards in a season by a freshman with 3,820, surpassing the record set last season by UCLA's Brett Hundley.
"God is good everybody," Winston said. "I love my team. That's what this means to me. It means we're going to the next level. We ain't over yet."
Prior to Saturday's game, Fisher said what has made the Seminoles so successful is their extreme unselfishness. It was on full display Saturday night.
Five different players scored for the Seminoles.
Duke (10-3), which entered on an eight-game winning streak and having won 10 games for the first time in school history, said it had no intention of playing like a team just happy to be in the title game. And for the first 15 minutes, it kept that promise.
Duke held FSU to four first downs and 41 total yards in the first quarter. It was the first time the Seminoles were held scoreless in the first quarter in nine ACC games. Winston was 3-of-8 for 42 yards in the first quarter.
"We came out and played physical on both sides of the ball," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "We knew we had to try to match them, and for a while, we had the edge. I was pleased with the way we started.
"But the wear and tear of the game got the best of us."
While FSU's offense struggled to find its rhythm early, the defense held the game in check.
It held Duke to 94 first-half yards, including 30 rushing on 13 carries. The Blue Devils were 2-of-10 on third downs in the first half. Duke gained 239 total yards in the game and scored its only touchdown on a 5-yard run by Josh Snead with 1:01 remaining.
"Our defense was outstanding," Fisher said. "This is one of the best defenses I've ever been around."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.