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Seminoles have air of champions

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Posted: Saturday January 02, 1999 07:26 PM

By B.J. Schecter, Sports Illustrated

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Think about it for a minute. Florida State wasn't supposed to be here. The Fiesta Bowl was going to match Tennessee and either Kansas State or UCLA. Losses by the Wildcats and Bruins helped the Seminoles sneak in the back door. But here they are ... as favorites.

Tennessee is the No. 1 team in the country, and carries a perfect 12-0 record, yet the Vols are 5 1/2-point underdogs. Florida State is used to being in this position and relishes it. The Seminoles are loose, cocky and walking around Tempe like they're the No. 1 team. They deserve to be favored, they say. Anything less would be a sign of disrespect. On the flip slide, the Vols are more reserved, a little tight. They accept the fact that in the eyes of the public they are No. 2, even though Florida State lost a game and they didn't.

"Does it surprise me that we're the favorite?" said Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden . "No. We're always favored. But Tennessee deserves to be No. 1." But not favorites? "I guess people figure we've been in this position before so we know how to handle it."

On Tuesday night, in the type of pregame jousting that will go on all week, Florida State's Travis Minor and Marcus Outzen took on Tennessee's Tee Martin and Travis Henry in a friendly, virtual-reality video game. Guess who won? "We took it home," said the Seminoles' Minor. "We kicked their butts."

This type of confidence, sprinkled with a touch of arrogance, permeates the Florida State camp. Whether it's video games or football, the Seminoles believe they're going to win. It's this attitude (not to mention timely luck) that led the Seminoles to their first national title in 1993.

If it beats Tennessee, is Florida State the best team in the nation? That question is open to debate. But what's indisputable is that Florida State knows how to win and will do anything in order to put a team away. With Outzen making just his second career start against Florida on Nov. 21, Bowden called for a trick play late in the game in which wide receiver Peter Warrick, a quarterback in high school, rolled out and threw a 46-yard touchdown pass, a play that buried the Gators.

"We have several of those things tucked away," says Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt. "We calls those plays 'pacifiers' because they make coach Bowden feel better. They calm Coach down because if we need them they're there."

Outzen, a 6'2", 220-pound sophomore, has thrown 60 passes for 464 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He's playing the biggest game in his life and maybe his last game as a starter. But ask him about trying to lead his team to the national title and there's no hesitation when he says he believes he's the right person to do it. Outzen was recruited as a backup; he's no Dan Marino, but he's the type of player the Seminoles have won with all year.

"Why should I be scared?" said Outzen. "I beat Florida; it doesn't get any tougher than that." The national championship game? "I'll be ready. I can handle it."

Cockiness, confidence. The Seminoles are walking and talking like national champs already.

Sports Illustrated writer-reporter B.J. Schecter will file daily reports from the Fiesta Bowl for

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