ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is leading quarterback Jameis Winston into a new season in another NFL stadium, under very different circumstances.
Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, not a freshman playing his first college game. And the Seminoles are the top-ranked defending national champions playing on the same field where the 2014 title winner will be crowned in the first year of the new playoff format.
It’s all good, Fisher says of the opener against unranked Oklahoma State on Saturday night in the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys with the giant video board hanging over the turf.
“It’s good for camp. It’s good for the offseason,” said Fisher, whose team is trying to match a school record with its 17th straight victory. “I think it’s good for college football. You can’t do it all the time because schedules don’t allow you to do it, but I’m very excited about this and very pleased and looking forward to the opportunity.”
Winston offered quite a preview in his college debut a year ago, completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards in a 41-13 victory over Pitt at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That set the stage for the highest-scoring season in FBS history, capped by a touchdown pass in the final seconds of a 34-31 win over Auburn at the Rose Bowl in the final championship game under the BCS format.
Now Florida State is playing for a coveted spot in the four-team College Football Playoff, with the winners of those two New Year’s Day semifinals coming to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ massive showplace on Jan. 12.
Don’t forget that Oklahoma State is playing for one of those spots too, and these Cowboys have just two fewer wins than the Seminoles over the past six seasons. They just missed out on the title game three years ago and were angling for a spot in the conversation last year before two losses to finish the season.
“This is the most difficult year we’ve had in terms of returning players,” said coach Mike Gundy, whose team returns 10 starters compared to 15 for the defending champs. “We’ll find out where we’re at. We’ve got good, young players in the program. They’re just not very experienced.”
What to watch in Florida State’s first visit to the Dallas area since a 10-2 win over Texas A&M in the 1992 Cotton Bowl:
More than Winston
The FSU offense returns one of the most prolific receivers in school history in Rashad Greene, big things are expected from Karlos Williams in a running game that lost a lot of production and the offensive line features four senior starters. “I’m excited to play against them,” Oklahoma State defensive tackle James Castleman said. “I’m excited to play against the Heisman winner. I’m excited about all of it.”
The season-opening neutral site game is named for the NFL team, not the visitors from Oklahoma. But it figures to feel like a home game for Oklahoma State, which has twice played in the Cotton Bowl in the five years since it moved to Arlington from the historic Fair Park stadium of the same name near downtown Dallas. “It’s close to their home and I’m sure they’ll have a great home crowd there,” Fisher said.
Florida State defensive backs are calling themselves “The No Fly Zone” after leading the country in pass defense last year and setting a school record with 26 interceptions. P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby are potential first-round draft picks at cornerback. Sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey started all 14 games in 2013 and was the first FSU freshman to start at cornerback since Deion Sanders in 1985.
OSU passing game
J.W. Walsh will start at quarterback for the Cowboys, but Daxx Garman and Mason Rudolph could play. Oklahoma State lost its top two receivers from last year but always seems to find new ones. That legacy will be on display among the spectators, with Dez Bryant expected to watch from his suite. He was a first-round pick by Dallas four years ago out of Oklahoma State. Sophomore Jhajuan Seales is the leading returning receiver.
Long time no see
The Seminoles and Cowboys last played nearly 30 years ago, when Florida State won the 1985 Gator Bowl 34-23. Oklahoma State’s only win was 15-6 in 1958 in Louisville, Kentucky – the first of five different cities for the five meetings. Florida State hasn’t played a regular-season game in Texas since defeating North Texas State 21-20 in 1976 on snow-covered Fouts Field in Denton, about 30 miles north of Arlington.