On Nov. 30, 1986, Florida’s Ricky Nattiel beat damaged protection from a gifted however younger Florida State secondary and caught an 18-yard fourth-quarter landing. In a driving rainstorm, the Gators received their sixth straight recreation over Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles. It left a famously talkative coach with out solutions.
“I assumed possibly 8-3 could be the worst we may do,” Bowden informed native media the subsequent morning over espresso. “I actually thought we would beat Florida and go into subsequent yr with a variety of momentum.”
After charging to back-to-back AP top-6 finishes in 1979 and ’80, FSU had fallen right into a rut. The Seminoles have been nonetheless succeeding massively in comparison with their historical past — they’d quickly attend their fifth straight bowl (the All-American Bowl in opposition to Indiana) and seventh in eight seasons — however this was the second time in 4 seasons they’d crumbled within the face of excessive expectations. In 1983, the Noles started the yr seventh within the AP ballot however misplaced to Tulane in September, misplaced by 39 to Florida and completed 7-5. In 1986, they began out eleventh however received manhandled by Nebraska and Miami, tied unranked North Carolina and discovered a option to lose but once more to a .500 Gators staff.
“It positive is difficult to clarify,” he stated that Sunday morning. “I can not clarify it. I am uninterested in being humble.”
He would not need to be for for much longer.
To that time, Bowden’s FSU tenure had already been a heck of a narrative. He was not the Noles’ first option to succeed Darrell Mudra in 1976 — others, like Pitt’s Johnny Majors and Indiana’s Lee Corso, had already supposedly turned them down — however after a rocky however encouraging six seasons at West Virginia, Bowden moved to Tallahassee, embraced a youth motion, and rapidly surged.
FSU went 10-2 in 1977, ending the season with dominant wins over Florida and, within the Tangerine Bowl, Texas Tech. Simply two years later, the Noles rolled by means of an 11-0 season and jumped into the AP prime 5 for the primary time earlier than shedding to Oklahoma within the Orange Bowl. In 1980, they beat Nebraska in Lincoln and got here inside two factors of an unbeaten common season and potential nationwide title.
FSU’s rise got here collectively in a manner that would not be duplicated as we speak. Bowden, who died Sunday morning at 91, was a charismatic recruiter who discovered success tapping into the burgeoning (and solely just lately built-in) Florida highschool market, and he was generally known as one of many braver playcallers within the recreation, each within the dangers he would take and the trick performs he would draw up. His “Puntrooskie,” a pretend punt-turned-fumblerooskie, beat Clemson in 1988. In 1991 in opposition to Michigan, the Noles ran two trick performs in the identical drive, first finishing a double-pass, then faking a discipline purpose to attain.
Rece Davis particulars the Puntrooskie, a Bobby Bowden trick play that was run in opposition to Clemson in 1988.
That a part of the recipe, you would possibly be capable of replicate. The scheduling half, you possibly can’t. As an impartial program dwelling in a time wherein schedules weren’t drawn up a decade or extra upfront, Florida State was capable of begin carrying itself as a serious program earlier than it turned one. Bowden declared that FSU would play anybody, wherever, then backed it up. The Noles performed Nebraska 4 occasions from 1980 to ’86, all in Lincoln. They performed a peak-of-its-powers Pitt 4 straight years from 1980 to ’83. They performed LSU in Baton Rouge yearly from 1980 to ’83.
This sometimes backfired, like when a younger 1981 staff confronted highway video games in opposition to Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt and LSU consecutively. FSU truly went 3-2 in that stretch however collapsed from there, shedding to Southern Miss and Florida by a mixed 93-17 and ending 6-5. And within the 5 years that adopted, 13 of the Noles’ 18 losses got here to groups ranked sixteenth or higher within the AP ballot, 10 on the highway.
This was a fully brutal option to attempt to construct a nationwide popularity, and one may make the case that it hadn’t completely paid off. However then it did.
In 1987, FSU as soon as once more discovered itself getting the good thing about the doubt from pollsters; the Noles started the season eighth within the AP ballot regardless of the earlier season’s 7-4-1 disappointment. They beat their first 4 opponents, together with Michigan State in East Lansing, by a mean of 27 factors. They fell to eventual nationwide champion Miami by a single level in early October — a two-point conversion try within the remaining minute fell incomplete — and received their final six regular-season video games, together with highway battles with Florida and No. 6 Auburn, by a mean of 34 factors.
They toppled Nebraska within the Fiesta Bowl to complete second within the polls, a single two-point conversion away from a nationwide title. And so they would not end outdoors of the highest 5 once more till 2001.
Longest streaks of top-five finishes by an FBS coach:
14: Bobby Bowden (FSU, 1987-2000)
7: Bud Wilkinson (Oklahoma, 1952-1958), Pete Carroll (USC, 2002-2008)
6: Dabo Swinney (Clemson, 2015-present)
5: Ara Parseghian (Notre Dame, 1966-1970)
4: Frank Leahy (Notre Dame, 1946-1949), John Vaught (Ole Miss, 1959-1962), Darrell Ok Royal (Texas, 1961-1964), Barry Switzer (Oklahoma, 1973-1976), Dennis Erickson (Miami, 1989-1992), Steve Spurrier (Florida, 1995-1998), Nick Saban (Alabama, 2015-2018)
Fourteen straight top-five finishes. It boggles the thoughts. From a pure achievement standpoint, Nick Saban’s present run of six nationwide titles in 12 seasons at Alabama has maybe surpassed it due to the rings concerned, however even in that string, Bama completed seventh or worse thrice.
FSU introduced unerring greatness each single yr for a era. The Seminoles beat 27 top-10 groups in that span and averaged 4 All-People per yr. They received two nationwide titles, reached two extra BCS Championship video games (one they almost received with a backup QB) and misplaced solely to a given season’s nationwide champion on two different events.
They did this at the same time as the game carried out scholarship limitations to democratize faculty soccer a bit. If a four-team Faculty Soccer Playoff had been in existence on the time, they’d have been a favourite to win much more rings. They confronted the height of The U (after which its rebirth as properly) and Steve Spurrier’s Enjoyable-and-Gun and by no means misplaced their spot in faculty soccer’s ruling class.
On this period of energy consolidation, it is virtually comforting figuring out that the final word streak of success is not going to be damaged any time quickly. (At finest, Swinney’s Clemson groups want eight extra dominant ACC runs earlier than he can tie the streak.)
It is much less comforting figuring out that faculty soccer’s subsequent Florida State may not have a path to the identical kind of success. Scheduling alternatives are restricted, independence is a viable path for just a few faculties (and most of them would leap on the proper convention alternative), and the consolidation that has occurred — and what may unfold additional sooner or later — may affix a fairly low ceiling on a brand new up-and-comer.
Forty-five years in the past, FSU boosters pooled collectively sufficient cash to purchase Darrell Mudra out of his contract after simply two years. They wished to win large, however they did not know what they have been in search of. Bowden confirmed them. For higher and worse, his successes may not be replicable. However a minimum of faculty soccer noticed them as soon as.