Sunshine State Demise (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday October 18, 2006 12:02PM; Updated: Wednesday October 18, 2006 12:02PM
At the opposite end of the state, but at a similar stage for its program, sweet home Tallahassee, where the skies have been anything but blue as of late. If football is a religion, I have attended the Church of Bobby Bowden for the greater part of my college years. I've watched the congregation ebb and flow with the turbulence that has plagued the program the past few seasons.
The number of excuses outnumbers the points Florida State has scored this season. Due to suspensions, injuries, player ineligibilities, early departure to the NFL and numerous other reasons, the Seminoles lack the depth to compete with the flourishing teams in the ACC and have a dismal chance at making a repeat appearance in Jacksonville. Still, don't expect to see FireBobbyBowden.com anytime soon. While Jeff Bowden may have an online "fan" club, the Seminole nation has too much respect for Bobby and all he has built at Florida State to call for his removal from the head coach position.
Seminoles fans are essentially being held hostage by their own legend: unable to speak their opinions and unable to watch the demise of their program any longer without action. While most will wear black this weekend in the student section to coordinate with the team's new uniforms, others will wear it to mourn the demise of FSU football as they have come to know and love it. Some fans have told me that it's gotten so bad that their die-hard Gator friends actually feel sorry for the FSU program. Sympathy from the Gates? Now we have sunk to an all-time low. One thing is for sure: There is a Seminole uprising on the horizon in Tallahassee, and the battle will be one of epic proportions.
All through the 1990s, it was mandatory that all national-championship discussions include either FSU or Miami. The matchup between the two teams defined the term "college rivalry" as we know it, and for most fans it was the highlight of Labor Day weekend. Today, if you can sit through the sloppiness and penalty exchanges that the Hurricanes-Seminoles game has become, you'll need a magnifying glass to find the teams buried in the "Others Receiving Votes" section of the two major polls in Monday morning's paper.
As for the Seminoles' impending game with Florida on Thanksgiving weekend? While I am hoping for an early birthday present, I am also preparing for the worst.
Drive an hour and a half southeast of Tallahassee and you eventually hit what University of Florida fans affectionately refer to as "the Swamp." As recently as last Friday, the Gators were "kings of the world" of Titanic magnitude, but Saturday their dreams of a run at the national championship were put on hold by a swarming Auburn defense. The first half was all Gators, all the time, with Florida's chimera offense outwitting, outmaneuvering and outplaying the Tigers. The last few minutes of the game I can equate only to watching an episode of Jackass. I know I am not supposed to laugh at this, or enjoy it because it causes someone else pain and agony, but being that I was raised to hate everything orange-and-blue, I simply could not help myself from indulging in a little schadenfreude. Still, if Florida is going to lose, I want them to lose fair and square, and the Gators were denied their fair trial by instant replay, losing a potentially game-altering call over a debated "fumble." Now it's up to Urban Meyer and his crew to nurse their wounds, bring home a win from Jacksonville on the 28th and hope for a rematch in the SEC championship game, their first since 2000. If they fail, Gators fans may be clamoring for a new cheer. "It's great ... to be ... wait, what were we saying?"
Though the trail of football woes may have blazed through the rest of the state, a new breed of football is on the horizon in Tampa. The University of South Florida proved itself to be a worthy adversary in Division I-A football on Saturday, defeating North Carolina 37-20 in Chapel Hill. Though the program is still in its infancy by Florida football standards, the Bulls have managed to hang with the best of them in recent weeks, narrowly losing to Rutgers in an attempt at an onside kick in the final seconds of the game two weeks ago. The near upset reminded fans what their boys have accomplished in their young NCAA careers. The Bulls stunned the nation last year when they beat ninth-ranked Louisville and were extended their first Bowl invitation against Chuck Amato's Wolfpack. The bowl game marked only the hundredth game in program's history, something unprecedented in NCAA Division I-A history. The Bulls' stampede appears to be far from over as they continue to climb up the ladder of opponents, gain more national recognition and make a name for themselves.
The question remains: Why the drastic changes in these prominent programs over these past few years? Many factors contribute, but one possibility is the development of the coaching infrastructures at the various schools. Florida brought in a young, dynamic coach in Meyer that has paid immediate dividends -- the team has risen to the top of the SEC and has positioned itself for a legitimate run at the national championship for years to come. Who knows, if Meyer keeps this up, maybe he will be more revered than Spurrier by the time he retires.
USF has built a program from the ground up in only 10 short years, perhaps positioning themselves for a run similar to what Coach Bowden brought to FSU in 1976. Conversely, both FSU and Miami athletic directors might as well run "Now Seeking" and "Help Wanted" ads. Florida State's program, while once a powerhouse, has gone stale, and Miami's program has yet to show signs of life this season (unless you count the free-for-all brawl Saturday). The players are frustrated, and it shows. Likewise, their fans have been reduced to bantering online regarding which college or NFL coaches, assistants or coordinators are the best candidates to revive their programs from their respective comatose states. Fans may not be happy with the "rebuild from the ground up" approach that UM took a few years ago.
In years to come, I wonder whether or not people will still debate a "Big Three" in Florida football, and who they will include on their list. Florida has only cuts and bruises that can be healed easily with a win over Georgia, but Florida State's and Miami's wounds need immediate tourniquets, and even once the bleeding has stopped, the scars may take years to heal if changes aren't made soon. The Bulls will continue unfazed in their journey, until their path leads them through Miami or Tallahassee. Then we will witness a true test of character, of all parties involved.
Until then, at least somewhere in Florida, there is rejoicing.