Glory ... Florida State
The first in a series
analyzing what went wrong for some of the former superpowers
The Florida State
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
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
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.