Youth is served
Young FSU squad in title game sooner than expected
Posted: Saturday January 02, 1999 09:02 PM
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - When the season started coach Bobby Bowden was sure his young Florida State team could challenge for the national championship -- next year.
The Seminoles, after all, had lost nine players to the NFL draft from last year's team, including two in each of the first three rounds. They also lost starting quarterback Thad Busby to graduation and his projected replacement, Dan Kendra, to a season-ending knee injury in the spring practice game.
Yet, on Monday, the second-ranked Seminoles (11-1) will play No. 1 Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl with a national championship at stake.
"I felt like this team was iffy when we started the season," Bowden recalled. "There were too many ifs."
The ifs included Chris Weinke, a rookie 26-year-old quarterback, one of nine non-seniors starting on offense and seven on defense.
But the young defensive team was faster than last year's and the skill players on offense were among the best Florida State has ever had, including junior wide receiver Peter Warrick and sophomore tailback Travis Minor.
"This is a team of potential, which means you haven't done it yet, but that beats a team that doesn't have potential," Bowden said. "I didn't know if it would happen this year. So, next year it will be a team of proven potential."
The Seminoles will lose only four senior starters from the nation's top-ranked defensive team: end Tony Bryant, linebackers Lamont Green and Demetro Stephens and safety Dexter Jackson.
But in Florida State's scheme of wholesale substituting to keep fresh defensive players in the game, their backups have virtually as much experience. All are underclassmen except for senior lineman Billy Rhodes.
The offense will lose only Lamarr Glenn and tight end Myron Jackson, both primarily blockers, to graduation.
Also leaving may be Warrick. Bowden expects the All-America receiver to forgo his last year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft although Warrick says he hasn't yet decided.
"I'd like to have him back. I think he'd make a whole lot more money if he'd come back, but I don't feel he's coming back," Bowden said. He said the economic strain on Warrick, who has a daughter to support, may be too great.
Warrick was one of Bowden's biggest ifs at the start of the season, because of inconsistency.
"As the year progressed, he got more and more consistent," Bowden said. "He's always worked hard. It's just he didn't take it serious. He dropped one, and it didn't bother him. It bothers him now."
The rest of the receiving corps, however, will be back, as well as two experienced quarterbacks, both sophomores this season.
Weinke, who returned to Florida State after playing minor league baseball for seven years, started 10 games before he was sidelined with a season-ending neck injury. Marcus Outzen started the next two games and is the starter for the Fiesta Bowl. Kendra also will return -- but at fullback.
Weinke said having to sit out the national title game just makes him hungrier for next season.
"This team's got great talent and young talent," Weinke said. "After the game Monday night, I think the focus automatically switches to next year."
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