Of all the blue-chippers to commit to the Seminoles, one will be subject to particularly intense scrutiny: placekicker-punter Scott Bentley (page 34), whose right instep, the Seminoles hope, will exorcise the demons that have denied Florida State a national title. Everyone in Tallahassee knows that Bentley routinely booted field goals of more than 50 yards in high school, but no Seminole is getting overly excited. Says fullback William Floyd, "He'll earn my respect when he kicks a 35-yarder against Miami."
Another reason Florida State has become a magnet for All-Americas is its arduous schedule. Says junior Clifton Abraham, "The games we play, everybody in the world watches." Abraham, who along with junior Corey Sawyer is the latest in Florida State's line of velociraptor cornerbacks, attended Carter High in Dallas, a renowned football factory. His teammates signed on with Houston, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Why didn't Abraham stay in state? "Two reasons," he says. "The tradition of cornerbacks [at FSU]"—including NFL stars Deion Sanders and Terrell Buckley—"and the magnitude of the games."
Bowden has made Florida State's reputation in part by beating name opponents on the road. He revels in being the short guy in the bar who taps the big guy's chest and says, "Anytime, anywhere." More often than not, a team that goes into its own alley with the Seminoles gets its head handed to it. In 12 trips to Ohio State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Clemson, Michigan and Syracuse under Bowden, Florida State is 9-3.
The short guy has won so many scraps, you might think he had little left to prove. But Florida State's scheduling pugnacity persists. Besides Miami and a strong slate of ACC opponents, the Seminoles will play Florida and Notre Dame—on the road. Why? "Ego, I guess," says Bowden.
"Our fans expect and enjoy tough games," says assistant athletic director Andy Urbanic. True, but with the national championship within Florida State's grasp, fans would certainly understand another Tulane or two. Instead, the Seminoles shortened their summer and made their lives more difficult by agreeing to play Kansas in the Aug. 28 Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, in East Rutherford, N.J., a game in which Florida State might seem to have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Bowden disagrees. "Our kids have never been to New York, never played in the Kickoff Classic," he says. Also, the Heisman Trophy campaigns of Charlie Ward, Florida State's dazzling quarterback, and Tamarick Vanover, its outlandishly talented wide receiver and return specialist, stand to get jump-starts from the New York media. Then there is the not insubstantial matter of the $900,000 that the Seminoles stand to earn for the athletic department. Mainly, though, Bowden feels that if his team can't beat Kansas, it doesn't deserve to be No. 1.
"Besides," he says, "I just don't think there's a shortcut to the national championship. Whether it's 12 or 13 games, home or away, you're gonna have to have some luck to win it."
While waiting for his own share of luck, Bowden has survived, and thrived, by adapting. Before the start of last season he let his assistants talk him into adding the one-back and shotgun attacks to the Seminoles' trusty pro-set offense. In a further sign of his flexibility, Bowden—who had long before delegated defensive decisions to Mickey Andrews, his defensive coordinator—handed the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Brad Scott and quarterback coach Mark Richt.
But Bowden retains ultimate control on both sides of the ball. Against North Carolina in Florida State's sixth game last year, Bowden benched Ward in the second quarter after Ward completed only two of eight passes and had thrown his 12th and 13th interceptions of the season. There was speculation that Ward would be demoted in favor of freshman Danny Kanell the following week against Georgia Tech. Bowden stayed with Ward, who stole the game from the Yellow Jackets.
Earlier in the season Ward had struggled operating the one-back, but he flourished in the no-huddle shotgun. When the Seminoles came out in the shotgun, opposing defensive ends played so wide in deference to Ward's scrambling ability that huge passing lanes opened. And the quicker tempo of play without a huddle suited the basketball player in Ward, who is Florida State's starting point guard after the football season.