The timeline for Florida State football ever since the 2013 national championship has been anything, but expected.
The mix of nail-biting wins and deflating blowouts is enough to drive any fan base crazy, especially one that is so used to success. The Seminoles are hoping to return to being a consistent team that doesn’t rapidly decline or rise after singular games.
But in the meantime…there have been some seriously fun games. Did they give fans heart palpitations almost every week? Sure. That’s one of the things we love about sports! Those tension filled games coming down to one or two plays make the taste of victory all that more sweet.
We looked back at the 45 wins the Seminoles have amassed over the past five seasons, and narrowed it down to the top five games in that group. We limited our selections to two from the same season.
No. 5 – Ole Miss (2016)
Florida State fans had seen this one before. The Seminoles came out flat against the Rebels in the season opener at Camping World Stadium in a manner reminiscent of the 2014 squad. But this team didn’t have Jameis Winston at the helm, and it was in serious doubt when the Noles went down 28-6 late in the second quarter. It seemed like the Rebels offense just had their number that night.
The script flipped in the second half. Florida State’s defensive line came out on fire in the second half and helped forced three straight turnovers from the Rebels. This allowed then first-time starter Deondre Francois to get into a rhythm, on his way to a career-high 419 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Dalvin Cook had an impressive 191 total yard showing as well. For the rest of that second half, the Seminoles would not be denied. They scored on their last seven drives to end the game.
When the clock hit triple zeros, the final score read 45-34. Not surprisingly, the fan base was invigorated with hope for the season.
No. 4 – Miami (2015)
This was the game where we could finally start talking about Dalvin Cook as one of the best running backs in the nation. Sure, he had lit up the South Florida Bulls a few weeks prior, but Miami’s defense was considerably tougher. Factor in that it’s a rivalry game, and the pressure was on.
The game started out well enough. Florida State jumped out to an early 17-3 lead on the back of Cook, who provided the spark with a 72-yard rushing touchdown and 36-yard receiving touchdown. But sure enough, Miami started to fight back. Quarterback Brad Kaaya used a little bit of luck and a lot of accuracy to start picking on the weak spots of the FSU defense. Florida State settled for field goals and let Miami take a 24-23 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.
Who else but Cook to save the day? Thanks to a clutch throw and catch from Everett Golson to Jesus Wilson, the Seminoles avoided a 3-and-out and set up Cook for his third touchdown of the game — this one from 23 yards out. Florida State led 29-24, but Kaaya had the ball in his hands.
Not for long. Tenacious effort by the Florida State defensive line led to three batted passes at the line of scrimmage, including the dagger on fourth down. Giorgio Newberry and DeMarcus Walker were the two players who caused the havoc on the final drive.
Final: 29-24 as the Seminoles won their sixth straight against Miami. Cook went for 269 total yards and three touchdowns. Golson had his own 291 passing yards and single touchdown, and Kermit Whitfield put up 95 receiving yards.
No. 3 – Florida (2015)
Florida State wanted to pull off the sweep of in-state teams to end the 2015 season. The lone roadblock in their way: the Florida Gators. While there weren’t national championships on the line for this contest, it was still a battle of heavyweights. The Gators were 10-1 and ranked No. 10 as they played host to the 9-2 Seminoles, ranked No. 13.
The game itself was…not pretty. A symphony of punts marked the first quarter, and no one got on the board until Florida State scored 10 points in the second quarter. The first touchdown came late in the quarter, when Sean Maguire pulled off a “Hail Mary from the 1-yard-line” on a convoluted throw to tight end Jeremy Kerr on fourth down. FSU went into the half up 10-0, but the game was liable to change on a dime. The Seminoles needed their defense to continue stifling the Gators.
They stepped up to the challenge. Florida State suffocated any hopes that Florida had for a productive offense. The Gators finally scored on a circus play that resulted in a safety. But it proved to be plain luck, as the Gators would not score another point the rest of the contest. The Seminoles tallied five sacks in the contest and put the game away with two late Dalvin Cook touchdown runs.
The 27-2 loss dashed any hopes that Florida would have a darkhorse shot at the College Football Playoff, which made it extra satisfying for the Seminoles in their third straight victory in the rivalry.
No. 2 – Notre Dame (2014)
In the first of games from the tumultuous 2014 season, the contest against Notre Dame would live up to its predecessor from all those years ago. While the rankings weren’t 1 vs. 2, the 2 vs. 5 had enough drama with it to bring College Gameday to Tallahassee.
It took a little while for this game to get going. Each offense started slow, but eventually heated up as the first quarter came to a close. Notre Dame struck first on a short pass before Florida State marched back down and did a similar play of its own.
With the score tied, 7-7, entering the second, each took a step back to start the quarter. The teams traded interceptions on back-to-back throws, but it was Notre Dame who capitalized on Florida State’s mistakes first. Everett Golson — then the Notre Dame quarterback — found Corey Robinson in the corner of the end zone to take a 14-7 lead. A few series later, FSU chipped in a field goal, which Notre Dame responded in kind. It was 17-10 entering the second half, and Florida State’s offense was once again struggling to find its footing.
The break worked. Jameis Winston came out in the second half and played like a man possessed. The first series out, he found Rashad Greene over the middle to tie it up at 17-17, and looked much more confident doing so. Not to be outdone, Golson led his offense back down the field and took the lead 24-17 after showing off some dazzling scrambles. One could easily see why FSU fans were hyped for his arrival in Tallahassee in 2015.
Winston was still in the zone and Florida State wasted no time tying it up 24-24 — this time on a Karlos Williams bulldoze into the end zone. Entering the fourth, this game was a true toss up.
Notre Dame took a small 27-24 lead near the beginning after a successful drive stalled out thanks to an enthused FSU defense. On the very next series, a healthy mix of pass and run brought the Seminoles all the way to the Notre Dame goal line, where they punched it in on another Williams touchdown to make it 31-27. Things got weird after this.
Notre Dame was able to get into FSU territory on the next drive, before the FSU defense forced a Notre Dame punt with around five minutes to go. It turns out that was the best thing Notre Dame could have done. The FSU offense was cornered near its own end zone, and two unsuccessful run plays found the Seminoles entertaining the thought of a safety. Instead, they were able to get a punt off with over three minutes to go, but the Fighting Irish would still get the ball back inside FSU territory. All FSU needed to do was come up with one more stop.
It looked like too much to ask. Notre Dame kept drawing from the luck of the Irish, even converting a 4th-and-18 scramble pass play that brought its chances back from the dead. They got all the way down the goal line, and it looked like it the Fighting Irish were the team of destiny — the ones who would finally beat the Seminoles.
It came down to a 4th-and-goal from the FSU 2-yard-line with 15 seconds to go. Golson looked right, and what did he see? A wide open receiver, who walked into the end zone, seemingly ending the FSU winning streak at 22.
An offensive pass interference on Notre Dame negated the touchdown. The Seminoles would have one last shot to stop the Fighting Irish and keep the dream alive.
As Golson rushed out of the pocket on the next play, everyone held their breath. Would a Hail Mary be possible? Will that Corey Robinson guy do it again? Has their luck ran out?
FSU linebacker Jacob Pugh intercepting it in the back of the end zone ended all doubt. The Seminoles survived, 31-27. The dream lived.
No. 1 – Clemson (2014)
The buildup to this game added enough tension to make it a soap opera. The initial half-game suspension of Jameis Winston turned into the full game, complete with pregame theatrics that involved him walking out onto the field in full uniform. Amidst rising scrutiny over Florida State’s football program, the game had an aura around it that is hard to describe to this day. It felt like the buildup to a final stand.
What made this game legendary in retrospect was the appearance of Deshaun Watson. After starter Cole Stoudt was ineffective to start the game, Watson came in for the Tigers and immediately gave them a threat under center. The same couldn’t be said for Florida State, where first-time starter Sean Maguire was struggling to figure out Brent Venables’ defense. Despite the lopsided performance of the quarterbacks, both defenses would shine the whole game. The defensive lines in particular set up camp in their respective backfield. Entering the locker room, it was 10-3 Clemson. The No. 1 ranked Seminoles were uneasy with where they stood.
Florida State struck early in the third on a Mario Pender rushing touchdown, helped along by multiple penalties from the Clemson defense. The rest of the quarter was a back-and-forth affair, before Clemson was able to take advantage of a Mario Edwards injury and drive all the way down the Seminole 2-yard-line. But an errant snap sent the ball flying over Watson’s head, and forced the Tigers to attempt a field. They missed the attempt (their second of the game) and the contest was knotted at 10 to begin the fourth.
Maguire made his worst mistake yet early in the fourth on poor decision which led to an interception near the 50-yard-line. Clemson had no trouble taking advantage and going up 17-10. The next few drives were stall-outs for both teams, prompted by defenses giving whatever they had left in the tank.
Then, a prayer was answered. With six minutes to go in the game, on a 2nd-and-24, Maguire stood clean behind the offensive line and found a streaking Rashad Greene down the right sideline. Greene would walk into the end zone and FSU again knotted the score, 17-17.
Still, Clemson had a chance near the end. Maguire made another bad throw over the middle of the field — his second interception — with less than three minutes to go, and gave the Tigers a prime opportunity to kill clock and go for the win. FSU defensive tackle Eddie Goldman had other plans. He came up with a clutch strip, allowing the Seminoles to recover the ball and head to overtime.
What happened there is the stuff of legends.
Clemson had the ball first and started well enough. But instead of going for a field goal and forcing the FSU offense to try and not mess up, the Tigers elected to go for it on fourth down with one yard to go. Watson handed it off to running back Adam Choice, who was met before the first down marker by Goldman, Reggie Northrup, and Chris Casher. The second those three smacked him behind the line, the explosion from the crowd was arguably one of the loudest in Doak Campbell history.
The final series was a blur. The celebration had nearly begun when the Seminoles got the ball, needing just a Roberto Aguayo field goal to win it. They didn’t need it after all. On the second play of FSU’s series, Karlos Williams bounced a run to the outside and ended the game in the corner of the end zone.
23-17, Seminoles win.