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The pick

Expect tricks early on, good coaching -- and an FSU win

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Posted: Monday January 04, 1999 08:26 PM

  Title wave: Bobby Bowden (center) last won the national championship in 1993, beating Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl Rick Stewart/Allsport

By Trev Alberts, CNN/SI

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When you look at the coaches in the Fiesta Bowl, you're talking top of the class.

I like Florida State's Bobby Bowden, and I think he's a fabulous coach. But I think you have to be honest and say, with as much talent as Florida State has had over the past few years, to only have one national championship is surprising. I mean, how do teams like North Carolina State keep popping up and beating them?

Some of it is that the athletes are so good it seems like they get bored. That may have been what happened with N.C. State this year. But Bobby Bowden and his staff got the team re-focused, and look where they are now. Bowden's defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews, I don't know if there's any better out three.

What I like about Bowden is his willingness to lay it on the line. When you're playing Florida State, you can't be ready just for what they did all year. You better be ready for everything.

That's why I expect a trick play from Bowden within the first two series. If you've got one, you have to run it first. It doesn't work if you wait. And when the defense is so pumped up, running around everywhere, that's when it's most effective. Even if you don't gain anything, you at least get the defense thinking. And that's what you want, an opponent that is thinking and not simply reacting.

This game is great for Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. He's hardly ever mentioned with the best coaches in the country, but a win here would certainly put him there. Say what you want about him. This guy is the winningest coach in college football right now.

The changes I have seen in the Tennessee football team since Nebraska blew them out last year are amazing. They were a finesse, passing team last season. This year, they're 17th in rushing the ball. If you're going to be a good coach, you have to see the weaknesses in your team and adjust, and I think that's exactly what Fulmer has done.

You wonder how effective the Tennessee offense will be with new offensive coordinator Randy Sanders calling his first game. But Fulmer, essentially, will be calling the plays. You can bet nothing will be run without Fulmer's OK.

Intangibles

A lot of people think Tennessee is a team of destiny, though a lot of it is luck.

The fact is, teams make their own luck. Tennessee has been a resilient team all season. Still, you can't ignore the fact that they should have been beaten three times.

But, say what you want. They are undefeated. And it just seems like, every now and then, a team comes along that is special. Last year, it was Michigan. The pieces, the chemistry just fell together.

Another thing you can't discount is the leadership ability of a guy like Al Wilson. You can have the greatest coaching staff in the world, but it makes all the difference when one of your own looks you in the eyes and says, "Hey, let's get it going."

For Florida State, you can forget about destiny and all that. We're just talking about a group of incredible athletes. I don't know of any other team in college football that could play the Florida Gators with a third-string quarterback and come out with, maybe not a convincing win, but a nice, solid one anyway.

Trev's call

Early on, these teams may take some chances, but as a general theme, I think both offenses will be conservative. If you get a turnover early in the first quarter of a game like this, it can be devastating.

So the two teams will spend the first couple of series feeling each other out, mostly. By midway through the first quarter, they may start to loosen up.

The same keys apply to both teams. As obvious as it sounds, both have to avoid third-and-longs. With the speed of these defenses, you can't convince me that you can put Tee Martin or Marcus Outzen in the shotgun and expect them to win the game that way. That's why first and second downs will be critical. They gotta get to third and two, third and three.

If Florida State doesn't get wide receiver Peter Warrick the ball 15 or 20 times, at least, I don't see them winning. The key for Tennessee is running back Shawn Bryson. The Volunteers have to get him involved in the passing game, throwing him the ball in the flat.

And, of course, neither quarterback can make the boneheaded mistakes.

If you like defense, this is going to be one of the best games you could ever watch. This is not going to be basketball on grass.

I like Florida State, something like 17-10, 17-13.

 
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