A lot has changed since my last article. Some things haven't – Florida State University still hasn't lost a football game since November 2012 – but the public's perception of the Seminoles has soured. Some of that has to do with the inevitable backlash that comes when a team keeps winning, but mostly, all that ire has been focused on one central figure.
Don't worry, we'll get to him in a second.
Things are bad in Tallahassee. You don't have to be a diehard football fan to notice that since the season started, the sports media has put this team – and, to a degree, the entire university – under the microscope. If a Seminole were to fart in church, it would probably make the lead story on SportsCenter. I'm obviously exaggerating, but for a lot of FSU alum and fans, the sudden wave of intense attention is both jarring and frustrating. It's as if this weekend's showdown with fifth-ranked Notre Dame is the second coming of "Catholics vs. Convicts," with FSU standing in for the University of Miami this time around.
Let's be real: all of this attention and backlash rests solely at the feet of one Jameis L. Winston. The redshirt sophomore is, depending on whom you ask, either a misguided 20-year-old class clown who keeps making bad decisions, or a true villain whose vices include stealing seafood and yelling corny, basic-bro memes in the middle of Oglesby Union. His most recent infraction? Winston signed a bunch of autographs. No, seriously. While it doesn't look like he received compensation for doing so – a violation of (pretty dumb) NCAA regulations that would trigger a suspension, à la Georgia's Todd Gurley – people have assumed the worst and have called for a variety of actions, including for Winston to leave school. That's probably his fault; after all, there's also the ongoing drama of a hearing to determine if he violated FSU's Student Conduct Code in an alleged sexual assault last year.
The consistent pile-on, deserved or not, has led Seminoles fans to unite, taking to social media to poke fun at the over-coverage via #BlameJameis, a hashtag started by FSU alum TJ Pittinger. The concept is simple: Winston is responsible for everything that can or has ever gone wrong, from the Hindenburg disaster to the underwhelming Dexter series finale. It's a parody, yet it's also not that far from the truth. And while the effort is appreciated (and funny at times,) the distraction takes away from one big thing: People don't think FSU is going to beat Notre Dame on October 18.
A lot of that has to do with how the Seminoles have played this year. The team isn't blowing opponents out in 2014, backup QB Sean Maguire – replacing the suspended Winston – struggled against Clemson and the team has been rocked by injuries. Notre Dame is also undefeated and pulled off an impressive comeback last week against North Carolina. Living in Chicago, I've been hearing about how FSU is going to have trouble against the disciples of Touchdown Jesus all week. That might be because (in my opinion) the University of Notre Dame is home to one of the most irritating and pretentious fanbases ever to walk this Earth. A smug pool of alums, old farts who still pine for Knute Rockne running around in a leather helmet and pious bandwagon jumpers, Golden Domers pride themselves on being "better" than everyone else despite not having achieved anything of note in two decades, save for Te'o-mania and being obliterated by Alabama in a BCS Championship Game. I hope they lose by 120. Personal vendettas aside, I think everyone is forgetting something: Even though they've had to earn their wins, Florida State is still a damn good football team.
This weekend is the biggest moment of the season for the Seminoles, an opportunity to put off-field issues behind them and silence the critics once again. If 2013 was the year FSU made its return to the national spotlight, 2014 is the year they prove to the country that they're for real. Hopefully Jameis gets the memo, too.