It was a run like few others. Fourteen straight years of double-digit wins, nine conference championships and a couple national crowns, that is what Florida State offered its faithful as it trampled over the college football landscape with their “dad gummit” coach leading the way.
With the likes of Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones, Warrick Dunn, Peter Warrick and Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke at his disposal to unleash on falls Saturdays, Bobby Bowden was able to craft a winner in Tallahassee, Fla., that earned the ultimate combo throughout the country: fear and respect.
The Seminoles didn’t enjoy the rebel label that the University of Miami did; they merely posted more success, consistent success. From 1987 through 2000, they were ranked no worse than fifth in a final poll.
Since then, um, well …
The balance of power shifted, 7- or 8-win seasons became the norm when FSU wasn’t forfeiting games due to using ineligible players, and it’s now three seasons since Bowden roamed the sidelines.
Yet, here we are, a month into the 2012 campaign and the ’Noles are ranked fourth in the country, playing a team ranked 10th (Clemson) and they appear – that’s appear – to be legit. Kinda like old times, huh?
Maybe … maybe not.
Just a year ago, FSU visited Clemson ranked 11th and fell to the Tigers, 35-30, in an ACC showdown as freshman sensation Sammy Watkins essentially sealed the ’Noles’ fate with a 62-yard TD catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter. No doubt, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd was key in the contest, throwing for 344 yards and 3 scores.
Watkins, though, was more symbolic – being a Sunshine State native who got away.
In the glory days, that rarely happened. But since the aforementioned dynasty days, that has been the case more often than FSU fans would like. It even happened under Bowden’s watch at the end, and it’s happened with Jimbo Fisher, too – Watkins, who earned All-American honors last season, just happens to be the most glaring example.
He also represents just a part of the Tigers’ dynamic offense that will challenge FSU’s No. 1-rated defense. Behind him, and Boyd, Clemson has the ACC’s top rusher in Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins, a top-flight receiver in his own right.
FSU sack specialist Bjoern Werner could create havoc for Boyd, thus disrupting the Tigers’ entire offensive attack. But revenge seems more likely to occur if QB EJ Manuel, who missed last season’s contest due to injury, performs at the same high level he has against lesser lights thus far this month.
In other big matchups:
No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon – The Ducks embarrassed Arizona last season in the desert, 56-31, as LaMichael James rushed for a school-record 288 yards. He’s in the NFL now, as is Nick Foles, who threw for 398 yards in the losing effort. The re-emergence of Arizona has been one of the sport’s better stories thus far, but does it have the overall team speed to hang with Oregon and De’Anthony Thomas?
No. 15 Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma – K-State’s Collin Klein is finally getting some deserved publicity, but the Sooners are balanced with QB Landry Jones and RB Damien Williams (259 yards in 2 games), so deep across the board and home. OU blasted the Wildcats, 58-17, in Manhattan, Kan., last season as Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and 5 TDs.
No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame – Wolverines QB Denard Robinson is a unique and electric talent, and Fitzgerald Toussaint is back, but the biggest concern for ND would seem to be a letdown after last week’s attention-grabbing upset win at Michigan State … or not going all out for 60 minutes. The Irish surrendered 28 points in the fourth quarter of last year’s 35-31 loss at Ann Arbor, Mich.