Flashback to college football in the 1990′s, if you will for a moment. The Big 10 still had fewer teams than the Big XII, Keith Jackson was there for every big game and January 1st meant hanging out with your dad, watching seven bowl games as you both sunk into a cheet0-induced coma. Undoubtedly, one or more of those bowl games provided the platform for the AP writers or the coaches to choose a national champion (or two), and invariably one of those games showcased the Florida St. Seminoles. There was one other certainty, at least in my house, and probably several others around the country, with the exception of the Florida panhandle; everyone was rooting against the ‘Noles.
You hated Florida St. in the late 80′s and on through the 1990′s, of course. Everyone did. Especially after The University of Miami’s bad-boy driven football greatness finally sagged under the weight of their off-field transgressions, the Seminoles stepped up to the plate and assumed the mantle of resident bad-guy football factory in college football. All were convinced that their players were a bunch of strutting, academics-shirking, late-hitting, stolen-shoe wearing thugs (they probably were); that their mascot was racist (gray area), and that Bobby Bowden, for all his aww-shucks, daggummitimjustasimpleolballcoach personality was just a phony, evil-genius in tinted Oakleys and an AT&T headset (probably true). Everyone wanted them to lose, and Florida St. made a habit out of disappointing most of the country.
Between 1987 and 2000, the ‘Noles lost a grand total of 19 games. During that stretch, they never finished a season ranked outside of the top four. And they had no friends. They beat up on the weak ACC, swaggering their way to empty victories over Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest, and though their comeuppances were highly public and memorable (Wide Rights I, II and III, losing “The Game of the Century” to Notre Dame in 1993 and Tee Martin to Peerless Price in the first ever BCS title game) they were very few and far between.
Despite playing in a crappy conference, and waltzing their way into the Sugar or Orange Bowl every year, the Seminoles were that good. They churned out NFL player after NFL player, and if someone was lost to injury, the NFL draft or (in rare cases) graduation, another All-American was waiting in the wings. No more Deion Sanders? Meet Terrell Buckley. No more Charlie Ward? Meet Danny Kanell. No more Marvin Jones? Meet Derrick Brooks, or Derrick Alexander, or Peter Boulware, etc. Florida St. was better than your team, you hated it, and there was nothing, repeat, NOTHING, you could do about it.
Why is this all relevant? Because after the 2000 National Championship game, when Josh Heupel and Oklahoma bored their way to a 13-6 victory over the Seminoles, something happened to Florida St. There was the “Free Shoes” scandal, the death of DeVaughn Darling at a 2001 practice and academic cheating scandals that all plagued the program throughout the 2000′s, sure, but the game seemed to be passing Bobby Bowden by. No longer could he go to any town in Florida, Texas or California, pick out the three best players and hand them Florida St. scholarships and expect that they would all sign, no questions asked. Miami overtook them again, briefly, and then Florida in the pecking order of sunshine state superpowers.
But a funny thing happened to the Seminoles on their way to mediocrity: they stopped being the object of national hatred. No one cares about the team that whiffs its way to an 8-4 record, a runner-up finish in the ACC Atlantic Division and a spot in the Emerald Bowl. And while it was fun to see Florida St. fall for a few years, they eventually became just another average ACC team, and very much ignored.
As the BCS changed the landscape of college Football in the 200o’s, so too changed the caliber of team that would always be at the top of the mountain. Gone were some of the traditional football factories (Notre Dame, UCLA, Michigan, Tennessee) and in stepped the schools who threw nothing but funding at their football program (Ohio St., USC, Texas, Florida). Then, as financial power became consolidated by conference in the latter half of the decade, the SEC became the center of the college football universe. Sure, the SEC schools have tradition on their side as well, but they also have the resources and the proximity to college football’s new breed of athlete, the one who has been in quarterback camps since the age of 9 and weightlifting since the age of 11, all in preparation for the scholarship that awaits. College football became corporate, and it passed smaller college towns like Blacksburg, VA, Ann Arbor, MI, and Tallahassee behind.
So now, with a 4-0 record, a number four ranking and an impressive victory over Clemson in a shootout on Saturday night under their belts, Florida St. should be your team for this 2012 season. Why? For starters, the Seminoles are good. Their running game is deep and varied, with the power or James Wilder, Jr. offset by the speed and trickery of Chris Thompson. E.J. Manuel is a do-it-all quarterback, and the defense, despite giving up 37 points to Clemson, looks like they will be athletic enough to keep up with the country’s elite.
Secondly, just take one look at the top six teams in both polls after Saturday’s games:
4. Florida St.
6. South Carolina
Four teams from the SEC super-conference and Oregon, who defines college football’s present corporation culture like no other, with their seemingly limitless supply of Nike-dollars funding a new jersey combination each week (on Saturday night the Ducks knocked off Arizona in chrome helmets-with matching chrome facemasks-that looked like they were borrowed from the Mercury space program). What we are left with is Florida St., the only team with a realistic shot at challenging the sport’s new big, bad dynasty teams from the outside.
So all of you who root for the underdog, who abhor the dynasty and like nothing more than to see the cocky favorite knocked off of their perch, Florida St. (FLORIDA ST.!) is now your team. Bust out that brick-red face paint and limber up your tomahawk-chopping arm, you’re a Seminoles fan now.
Of course this is only temporary. Should Florida St. somehow emerge from the season unscathed (a real possibility, their schedule is Charmin soft) and upset Alabama/LSU/Oregon in the national title game, they’ll be back on top, and everyone can go back to complaining that Tallahasse is a dump and that they stole that chant from the Atlanta Braves. However, for now, embrace them, because if you root for Iowa, or Colorado, or Connecticut, or any of the other 120 schools with absolutely no shot at winning the 2012 national title, Florida St. just became your team.
Somebody go get Keith Jackson.