Can Florida State Be A Superpower Again?
Floirda State QB Xavier Lee
Floirda State QB Xavier Lee
Posted Oct 3, 2007

Florida State is off to a nice start, and is coming off a fantastic win over Alabama, but this isn't the yearly national title-threatening powerhouse it was back in the late 1980s and 90s. What went wrong? Can it possibly be fixed? This begins the first in a weekly series of how to possibly restore the glory to the great programs.

Restoring the Glory ... Florida State

The first in a series analyzing what went wrong for some of the former superpowers

By Pete Fiutak  

The Florida State Background

There was a time when Florida State had a decent football program with a few bowl wins and a nice history of mild success. It wasn’t close to being a national powerhouse, and was all but non-existent on the national radar. Then, after winning just four games from 1973 to 1975, the program hired Bobby Bowden, a hot young prospect who had a little bit of luck turning around West Virginia. The 1976 Seminoles went 5-6, winning their final three games after improving mightily over the first half of the season. That was the program’s last losing season in 30 years … and counting.

Bowden didn’t just turn Florida State into a superpower; he turned it into a monster of a winning machine that would go on a run rivaling any era in the history of the game. From 1977 to 2006, FSU cranked out 18 double-digit win seasons, including an unprecedented run of 14 straight ten-plus win seasons from 1987 to 2001, went 13-0-1 in bowl games from 1982 to 1996, and became a yearly fixture in the top four of the final rankings. There were 288 wins, averaging 9.6 per year, two national titles, two losses in national championship games, and three other seasons that would’ve finished with national titles if it weren’t for losses to Miami in three of the greatest games of all-time. Florida State was two missed kicks away from having four national championships.

After the second championship, in a perfect 12-0 2000 season, the run of consecutive ten-win seasons stopped with an 8-4 campaign. From 2001 to present, FSU has lost 27 games, after losing 26 from 1985 to 2000, making the Seminole faithful wondering how and why the team wasn’t able to maintain the impossibly high standard, and what it can do to get it back.

What Happened?

It’s asking too much of any program to win ten games ever year and be in the national title hunt, but falling into the also-ran status hasn’t sat well in Tallahassee. There were still some nice seasons over the last few years, going 10-3 in 2003 and overcoming a rough 2005 regular season to win the ACC title, but now, Florida State is considered just another program that’ll go to a bowl every year, but isn’t considered a national title contender. How did the Noles fall? Three main things contributed to the slide.

1) The 2001 quarterback recruits
After losing Heisman winner Chris Weinke, FSU appeared to have its next great quarterback in Joe Mauer, a product of Cretin Durham-Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, the same high school Weinke attended. Yes, it’s that Joe Mauer, who chose baseball instead of football, and now is on his way to becoming an all-timer of a catcher for the Minnesota Twins. The loss of Mauer didn’t appear to be any big deal, since the Noles also recruited Adrian McPherson, a 6-4 athlete who was the first star in Florida high school history to be named both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball. His career never took off, having run into trouble with the law, while also being tied into gambling allegations. Chris Rix ended up becoming the starting quarterback, and while he was fine, he wasn’t considered the recruit, or the talent, Mauer and McPherson were. To put the 2001 quarterback recruiting class into perspective, and how good Mauer and McPherson were thought to be, they were ranked along with Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, and Kellen Clemens, who all became NFL starting quarterbacks, along with Brodie Croyle and D.J. Shockley.

2) The Loss of Mark Richt
Richt, the Florida State offensive coordinator up until 2000, left to become the head coach at Georgia, and was replaced by Jeff Bowden, Bobby Bowden’s son. The offense eventually became stagnant, predictable, and almost completely devoid of a consistent running game, yet the father stayed loyal, despite the screams and wishes of many Seminole fans. Jeff Bowden was replaced in 2006, with star offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher coming over from LSU.

3) The ACC Got Better
Getting back to the elite of the elite level became a whole bunch tougher after the ACC went from being an also-ran conference to league of vastly improved programs from the time FSU first joined. Teams NC State, Maryland and Virginia got better, while the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College made the overall conference stronger, upped the recruiting ante, and meant the time of FSU’s ACC yearly dominance had come to an end. Now, as opposed to the mid-1990s, the schedule has more landmines with more opportunities for upsets.

How To Fix It

Florida State will never again be able to reach the heights it achieved at its peak, but this is still a big-name program worthy of national hype and attention. However, three’s a big difference between getting by teams like UAB, and crushing and killing everything in its path. Florida State used to be given the national love like USC is getting now, and while that might not happen again, the program can do what Florida did and quickly rebound after a few down years. Here are three factors that might help.

1) Strengthen the offensive line
FSU’s fall from the top four ranks coincided with a few years of offensive line problems. The talent level hasn’t necessarily dipped, even though only three O linemen have been drafted over the last five years, but recently, injuries have been the biggest problem. It hasn’t just been mid-season, wear-and-tear bumps and bruises; the line was depleted to start the season in 2004 and 2005, which wasn’t exactly a plus when opening with Miami. FSU dominated when its quarterbacks had ten days to throw, or when it had a mobile passer working behind a strong line, hitting a peak during the Charlie Ward years. The athletes will always come to Tallahassee, and if there’s more depth and next-level talent up front, the offense will start to shine again.

2) Keep the defense rolling
Lost in the recent slip has been the play of the FSU defense … it remained a killer. The problems have been on offense. For the most part, the stars on defense are still shining, with the Mickey Andrews D among the best in America year in and year out, even though the stats aren’t always there with the offense providing little overall support. Keep the defense playing well, improve the offense, get in the national title hunt.

3) Come up with a post-Bowden plan, now
Wisconsin might have come up with the perfect blueprint on how to make a regime change when it announced a year in advance that Bret Bielema would take over for Barry Alvarez. Bobby Bowden hasn’t come up with a retirement date yet, but any top recruit looking to Florida State has to assume the head man isn’t going to be there five years from now. That uncertainty doesn’t help recruiting, and if that’s what’s causing FSU to miss out on just a few of the top-flight talents, that could be the difference between being a top 25 team, and a top ten one. No matter what happens, Bowden is certain to play a big role in the hiring of his replacement, even if it won’t ultimately be his call. Bowden doesn’t need to retire yet, but if he makes it clear who he believes his successor should be, perhaps offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher or defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, that might allow everyone to relax a little bit, and move with a plan for the future.









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