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FSU thumps Duke to win ACC title
Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston had plenty of questions to answer during the week leading up to Saturday's ACC Championship Game.
Following the freshman phenom's performance, the only question that remains is who the top-ranked Seminoles will face in the BCS National Championship Game.
Winston threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another score, as No. 1 Florida State rolled to its 14th ACC Championship with a 45-7 rout of 20th- ranked Duke at Bank of America Stadium.
On Thursday, Winston was cleared of allegations he sexually assaulted a woman last year, a distraction that had hung over the quarterback's head since reports of the assault initially surfaced in November.
Left to focus solely on football, Winston thrived, throwing for 330 yards on 19-of-32 efficiency while adding 59 yards on 10 carries to help the Seminoles finish 13-0 for the first time in school history while setting the conference and school records for wins in a season.
"I don't feel it was a burden because actually the football field is our sanctuary," Winston said of the distraction created by the investigation. "Every time I stepped on the field, every time we step on that field, everything outside of us, everything that happened outside of our family is just zoned out."
Winston, the clear-cut favorite to take home this year's Heisman Trophy, was named the ACC Championship Game MVP and set a pair of individual records for his stellar season, with his 38 TD passes and 3,820 passing yards setting FBS freshman records.
Kelvin Benjamin caught five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, while Devonta Freeman rushed for 91 yards and a score on 18 carries for Florida State, which will be playing in the National Championship for the first time since winning it all during the 1999-2000 campaign.
FSU's opponent in Pasadena will be determined during Sunday's BCS Selection Show. No. 2 Ohio State had its undefeated season derailed by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game on Saturday, leaving the door open for the SEC-champion Auburn Tigers to potentially sneak into the national title game.
"It honestly didn't matter to me who it was," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked of the possibility of playing Auburn. "I just wanted to win this game and play. Ohio State has a tremendous program and great history. Auburn does, too. I've coached there, I know them, either one of them, but I'm just glad that Florida State is there."
Anthony Boone struggled under center for the Blue Devils (10-3), completing just half of his 40 passes for 138 yards with two interceptions.
"We're not going to beat a lot of people when we complete 50 percent of our passes," said Duke's David Cutcliffe, who was named the 2013 Walter Camp Coach of the Year on Thursday. "That's not always just the quarterback. In a game like this, any given opportunity to make a play, you'd better make it."
Josh Snead scored late in the fourth quarter to account for the lone touchdown of the game for Duke, which has never beaten Florida State in 19 all-time meetings.
Florida State entered Saturday's title tilt ranked second in the nation in scoring at 53.7 points per game, but thanks in large part to a Freeman fumble inside the Duke 5 on FSU's second touch of the game, the Seminoles were held scoreless in the opening quarter for the first time all season.
Winston finally got his squad on the board early in the second, converting a 3rd-and-8 from the Duke 26 with a 12-yard toss to Nick O'Leary before floating a pass to the left side of the end zone for Benjamin, who hauled in the 14- yard score over two Duke defenders for a 7-0 lead with 12:36 left in the half.
Jamison Crowder returned a punt 40 yards later in the frame to give Duke excellent field position at the FSU 37, but Lamarcus Joyner picked off Boone three plays later to give the Seminoles possession at their own 27.
Freeman extended the ensuing FSU touch with a 3-yard rumble on 3rd-and-1 before following a sack of Winston with a 22-yard catch-and-run into Duke territory.
Winston and Benjamin got together for a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 later in the drive before Karlos Williams capped it with a 12-yard run off the right side that saw him run over a defender at the goal line to make it 14-0 with 3:37 left in the half.
Roberto Aguayo drilled a 45-yard field goal in the final minute of the frame to make it 17-0 in favor of the Seminoles at the break.
FSU created some separation in the third, scoring three touchdowns in a 7:14 span to build a 38-0 lead.
Telvin Smith picked off Boone at the Duke 26 on the Blue Devils' first drive of the second half, and Winston hit Kenny Shaw for an 11-yard score three plays later to extend the FSU lead.
Following a Duke three-and-out, Winston capped a quick 5-play sequence with a 54-yard scoring strike to Benjamin that made it 31-0 with 6:31 left in the third.
Boone fumbled the ball away after being sacked on Duke's next possession, and Winston scrambled for a 17-yard score four plays later for a 38-0 spread.
Freeman added a 7-yard TD run midway through the fourth and Snead scored from five yards out on Duke's ensuing sequence to account for the final margin.
Winston's 3,820 passing yards surpassed Brett Hundley's mark of 3,740 set last year, while his 38 TD passes broke Sam Bradford's record of 36 set in 2007 ... With their 14th conference crown, Florida State tied Clemson for the most conference championships in ACC history ... Duke has never defeated a No. 1- ranked opponent in 12 tries ... Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder caught eight passes for 66 yards, giving him 1,197 receiving yards on the season to set a school record ... FSU outgained Duke, 569-239.
12/08 01:50:14 ET
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