The Grinch movie is now playing in theaters. If I am to be the Grinch for Florida State fans, so be it. I don’t much care.
Look, folks: What matters at Florida State when football is discussed? What is truly important, and what is peripheral?
Yes, no one needs to tell me that a 36-year bowl streak possibly ending is a sign of how far the Seminoles have fallen. The bowl streak is rightly a point of pride, and losing it would hurt. Something which separated Florida State from other programs could soon be lost. Disappointment is a natural reaction, and I don’t want to take that away from anyone.
Here is where the discussion changes, however: That disappointment should not be primarily connected to the end of the bowl streak itself. The disappointment should be much more connected to the state of the program and the uncertainty in which it exists. The state of the program is why the bowl streak is in jeopardy, and likely to end if we are being brutally honest. The state of the program should be the top concern for everyone who cares about Seminole football. The bowl streak potentially ending would be a symptom of internal not, not a cause.
Boston College is a better team than Florida State. However, the Eagles are hardly healthy heading into this Saturday’s game. If Florida State got off the deck and won, it would not be an extraordinary upset, especially since B.C. might still be thinking about the Clemson game… and might not physically bounce back from the pounding the Tigers applied to Steve Addazio’s team.
If Florida State beat Florida, it would be a slight surprise, but nothing more than that — not with Feleipe Franks giving the Gators yet another mediocre quarterback in a decade full of cringe-inducing passing games in Gainesville.
The point of those last few statements about Boston College and Florida is simply this: Would winning out to get to 6-6 show that everything is fixed? Would winning these next two games indicate that Florida State is on its way back?
You know the answer to that question. You know that in a year when Miami and Virginia Tech have also crumbled — not just Florida State — the ACC faces more uncertainty from teams 2 through 14 than it has in previous years. My goodness — what in the ever-loving heck is going to happen in 2019? The forecast is as cloudy as one can ever recall for the 13 non-Clemson teams in the ACC. Florida State is just “one of a bunch of mystery teams” right now. What happens the next two weeks might offer small developments, good or bad, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think these games will have a substantial impact on next season.
What Willie Taggart has endured this season — and what he has himself failed to address this season — reminds me a lot of Charlie Strong’s first year at Texas. Strong lamented the character and attitude of the players he inherited from Mack Brown. He clearly struggled to get through to his team over the course of the season. By season’s end, the problems which had surfaced in September and October had not been nipped in the bud. There was no clear sign that the coach and his roster had begun to mesh. Strong also lacked an elite offensive coordinator. Shawn Watson came with him from Louisville, where the Cardinals had won the 2013 Sugar Bowl… but everyone could see that Teddy Bridgewater’s talent, more than Watson’s play selection, carried the Cardinals.
Want a salient comparison to Bridgewater and Watson at Louisville? Try Sam Darnold with offensive coordinator Tee Martin under head coach Clay Helton at USC. The quarterback was carrying the coordinator, not the other way around. Charlie Strong felt Watson was good enough to cut the mustard at Texas. Willie Taggart thought that Walt Bell was good enough to handle the heat at Florida State. After 10 games, the results don’t look good at all, and quarterback questions are still swirling around the head coach. Year 1 for Taggart in Tallahassee is a lot like Year 1 for Charlie Strong in Austin.
This doesn’t mean Taggart is destined to fail, but it does mean that this season has raised more questions than it has answered. This year has amplified concerns, instead of amplifying optimism. It doesn’t mean Taggart is doomed, but it does mean Willie has to make substantial changes in order to get this ship moving in the right direction.
Wins over Boston College and Florida would not change any of what has been written above. For Florida State and 12 other non-Clemson programs in the ACC, 2019 is a vast and foggy landscape. Visibility is near-zero. There is no speedway to relevance. Drivers have to drive at 15 miles per hour in this all-encompassing fog until it lifts.
You will forgive me, then, for not being overly concerned about this bowl streak.
Real talk, Seminole fans: You have every right to be upset about the prospect of the streak ending — it is, as acknowledged above, a legitimate point of pride in a program. However, tell me how much it really means to go 6-6 and play in Shreveport against a Conference USA team? Tell me how much it means to play in front of 20,000 fans the day after Christmas with ESPN’s 13th-best broadcasting crew calling the action? Tell me how much it truly means to face a Sun Belt school at 1 p.m. on a December weekday in 40-degree weather?
THAT is not something worth preserving at all costs. THAT is not something to be proud of.
Florida State should expect to play in New Year’s Six bowls in a majority of seasons. That is the standard this program has built over a long period of time. That should be the standard for coaches under normal circumstances. (What Willie Taggart faced in 2018 was not a normal circumstance.)
2018 has been a bad season for many reasons. If the bowl streak ends, that will be one… but the end of the bowl streak won’t be the main reason this season will be recalled as an “annus horribilis,” to borrow the Latin term. This season is bad chiefly because it has not laid the groundwork — not with any clarity, at least — for a New Year’s Six bowl season in 2019.
This was supposed to be a transitional year. Such seasons are not supposed to be immensely successful, and in a tougher, better ACC akin to what we saw in 2016, a 4-6 record wouldn’t even have been all that bad. If Florida State had played 2016 Louisville and 2016 Virginia Tech and 2016 Wake Forest this year, a 4-6 mark through 10 games wouldn’t seem like such an embarrassment. The bowl streak would still be endangered, but the sense of erosion in and around the program wouldn’t be nearly as acute.
The 4-6 record FSU carries into mid-November is bad because it has been forged in one of the weakest ACCs one can recall. The rise of programs such as Boston College, Pitt and Syracuse seems much more connected to the fall of Florida State than to those three programs’ improvements. They have filled a vacuum left by FSU, Miami, Louisville and Virginia Tech more than they have created their own shimmering new standard of performance. This season’s change in the ACC power structure is much more a product of what FSU and Miami (and others) have given away, compared to what B.C., Syracuse and Pitt have taken for themselves. If FSU is 4-6 against a weak ACC, not a strong ACC, it makes it that much harder to think 2019 can put all the pieces back together again.
FSU is in Humpty Dumpty territory right now.
That matters so much more than the cessation of the bowl streak.
It doesn’t make the bowl streak entirely irrelevant, but it does make the bowl streak a comparatively modest source of suffering.
Florida State shouldn’t be happy when it goes 8-4 and heads to the Belk Bowl, or 7-5 and to the Military Bowl. If FSU isn’t playing in a prominent bowl game, it has fallen short of the mark. That’s what should cause the most outrage among Seminole fans, not the denial of a chance to go to Shreveport.
Sure, be angry that the bowl streak is on the verge of ending. You should be. Just don’t make it the first, second or third thing you are most angry about. This is something worth lamenting, but the problems which plague FSU football right now — and the extent to which those plagues exist — should elicit far more displeasure than the difference between 6-6 and 5-7. If 6-6 is that big a deal for Florida State compared to 5-7, the very standards this program ought to aspire to have been lost.
Think about that as the Noles prepare for Boston College.
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