The dust has settled on the first recruiting class for new FSU coach Willie Taggart, and considering the disaster he inherited from his early December hiring, the Noles made out exceptionally well.
So much so, that the class was ranked #11 by 247 Sports final national rankings this week.
Some of the background of how that was accomplished was laid out here by Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com, who was given a behind the scenes look at days leading up up to National Signing Day:
Spent time up in Tally this week. Here is my inside look at a wild two months for Willie Taggart and Florida State. https://t.co/egwc18QwrY
— Andrea Adelson (@aadelsonESPN) February 9, 2018
With that access, Adelson revealed that Taggart loves to get reved up by Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” (What fan of the 80’s doesn’t?) and was doing so not only on the drive into the office, but as the Noles scored recruit after recruit Wednesday morning, he asked for it to be cranked in the “recruiting war room,” too.
It should also be noted that Taggart pulled together the recruiting class around the first ever December early signing day, while trying to hire his coaching staff. And actually, didn’t hire his new defensive coordinator, Harlon Barnett from Michigan State, or Walt Bell from Maryland, until after several key recruits signed.
Speaking of Bell, he revealed to the Tallahassee Democrat in a Saturday item that when Taggart hired him, that he drove straight from his recruiting trip for the Terps in Atlanta to Tallahassee to sign his deal and take the job. And, also that he didn’t have anything but Maryland golf shirts to wear with him.
Bell, and the other assistants, some who were with Taggart at USF and then traveled for one year to go with Oregon, have all had to get to know each other, but more importantly, close the recruits who were interested, but maybe unsure, about still coming to Florida State.
They were able to score recruits locally in the panhandle, in the Tampa Bay area, which Fisher had all but abandoned previously, and Taggart even flipped a prominent Oregon WR recruit to come to Tallahassee with them.
Almost every reputable recruiting service moved Florida State into their top 20 if not their top 15 for 2018.
It has to be considered a Noles success in that regard.
1993 distant, yet relevant, as FSU returns to Notre Dame
On one hand, 1993 feels like 100 years ago, not merely 25, for the Florida State Seminoles.
They aren’t in the same zip code — or county, or state, or continent — as the Bobby Bowden teams of olden days. Returning to that position will take time. There is too much to remake at the moment. Coach Willie Taggart’s words about his players this season strike a chord reminiscent of Charlie Strong at Texas. This doesn’t mean Taggart will fail, but it does mean he will require multiple seasons to see if he can get this project steered in the right direction. The world of 1993 is very far away for FSU.
This distance from the past is amplified by the details surrounding that celebrated contest in South Bend, one of the true larger-than-life regular season games college football delivers once in a great while.
Ohio State-Michigan is often a big deal, but only in a very few instances does that game swallow up everything else. Recall the 2006 edition of that game in which the winner would play for the national championship, a game magnified by the death of Bo Schembechler one day before kickoff. THAT was a larger-than-life OSU-Michigan meeting.
Every now and then, one such game appears on the landscape. It is not an annual occurrence, but examples do emerge:
1974 Notre Dame-USC.
You can sort through college football history and identify a select few games which towered above the rest of that regular season and are still talked about today. In the mid-1980s, college football fans in the state of Florida began to experience this adrenaline rush on a regular basis.
Oklahoma playing Miami in the Orange Bowl stadium for a regular-season game was a through-the-roof experience. So was Florida State playing Miami in a 1988 season opener when those two programs were just beginning to dominate the sport. Miami’s 1988 game at Notre Dame might have been the most-hyped regular-season game of the entire 1980s… and the game matched it.
These events help put 1993 FSU-Notre Dame in context. The Miami-Notre Dame game played five years earlier represented the closest comparison. College football owns a special intensity when games of this magnitude emerge. The special part about being a Florida State (or Miami, or Florida) fan in the early 1990s was that a huge regular-season game became a way of life. FSU-Miami games had become annual local Super Bowls in their significance. Florida finally emerged as a rival worthy of FSU’s concern. Florida-Tennessee games began to take on enormous importance, especially when a fellow named Peyton Manning arrived on the scene.
Yet, of any regular-season college football game played in the first half of the 1990s, was any game more hyped than Florida State-Notre Dame?
I don’t think so.
Remember that this game was played on November 11 in an era which had 11 regular-season games for every college football team, not the 12 we have today. There was no playoff, just the “poll and bowl” non-format the Bowl Championship Series replaced five seasons later in 1998. Everyone in college football felt that the winner of this game would play for the national title.
This was viewed as Bobby Bowden’s moment to finally cross the threshold and win a national championship after years of falling just short, often due to a missed late field goal against Miami. This was Notre Dame’s next opportunity to add to its lore and legend, five years after that epic win over Miami in South Bend. This was Charlie Ward’s chance to put a punctuation mark on his Heisman Trophy season. This was Lou Holtz’s chance to win a second national title at Notre Dame and dramatically increase his stature in the larger history of college football.
Colorful coaches. A new-age power against college football’s most famous school.
Florida speed against Midwestern toughness in cold, gray November weather.
This game had everything, and at a point in history when the internet was JUUUUUUUUST beginning to get off the ground, we shouldn’t be surprised this game changed the way college football was covered.
No, I am not referring to the NBC broadcast which had Bob Costas as the anchor and a man named O.J. Simpson as an on-field interviewer, one year before his white Ford Bronco became seared into the American consciousness. The 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame game changed the coverage of college football forever because it inspired a show called “ESPN College GameDay,” to do its first ever road trip.
What had previously been a studio show became a traveling carnival. Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and — before he became a reviled figure in college football — Craig James went to South Bend to begin an era which continues to elicit intense fan interest 25 years later. College GameDay’s road trips and ESPN’s rise as the central authority in college football broadcasting — and college football media influence over the rankings and Heisman races — emerged together.
Florida State-Notre Dame in 1993 represented in many ways the birth of ESPN as the new kingmaker in college football, starting a process which continuously gained more traction and remains firmly in evidence today.
For all the ways in which Florida State is far removed from its 1993 heyday, the impact of that 1993 game is still felt in the media world. It is also felt on the Notre Dame side of this 2018 matchup, a quarter of a century later.
Notre Dame is acutely aware of the reality that if it loses just one game, Michigan will probably pass the Fighting Irish in the playoff pecking order The larger story of the 1993 FSU-Notre Dame game — a story which transcends the game itself — is that Notre Dame got caught in the “letdown/hangover trap” later that November against Boston College and a man Jacksonville Jaguar fans know well: B.C head coach Tom Coughlin. The Eagles stunned the Irish on a late field goal.
Because the timing of a loss (late in the season as opposed to early) has so often mattered in deciding national champions in non-playoff seasons, Notre Dame slid to the Cotton Bowl to face Texas A&M. Florida State played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. There was no dream rematch in the Fiesta Bowl between the two schools.
When the smoke cleared at the end of the bowl games — with FSU and Notre Dame both winning — the Seminoles won the national title. The Irish, despite their head-to-head win over Florida State, finished second in the polls.
Notre Dame is staring at the reality that it could lose once in the stretch run of the 2018 season, finish with one loss alongside Michigan, and yet fall behind the Wolverines despite a head-to-head win.
So much has changed since the 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame game, and more precisely, so much in college football has changed BECAUSE of the 1993 FSU-ND clash. Yet, for all the things which have changed, and for all the things Willie Taggart WANTS to change in Tallahassee over the next few years, the reality that Notre Dame could lose a big postseason argument despite a head-to-head win over a high-profile opponent remains the same.
You can bet the folks at College GameDay — 25 years after that first traveling road show for the Seminoles and the Irish — will discuss that question this Saturday, before the 2018 reunion of one of college football’s most important games of all time.
Notre Dame QB Ian Book out for FSU game?
Already heavy underdogs and with an uncertain quarterback situation of their own for Saturday night’s game in South Bend, FSU may have caught a break with an injury to Notre Dame’s signal-caller.
Reports are out Thursday morning that Irish starter Ian Book suffered a broken rib in Notre Dame’s victory Saturday night at Northwestern, which put them at 9 – 0:
#NotreDame QB Ian Book will miss Saturday’s game vs. Florida State.
— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) November 8, 2018
Book took several big hits as the game wore on and the Irish eventually outlasted the Wildcats.
He currently leads the NCAA with a 74.5% completion rate and has thrown 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions in the last 5 games.
Seminoles coach Willie Taggart was asked about the Book injury and what impact it would have if he is unable to play Saturday night. According to Tallahassee.com Taggart told the media,
“I don’t think it impacts preparation. A lot of the work is in the books now and I don’t think their offense is going to change much… They have a capable backup quarterback that’s played a lot for them and won some games too. We’re going to continue to prepare like we’ve been preparing and be ready for whatever comes our way on Saturday.”
Notre Dame will likely turn back to Brandon Wimbush, who began the year as their starter and actually led them to the win over Michigan. However, he was inconsistent throwing the ball and threw 4 interceptions with just one TD pass in his time at the helm.
Meanwhile, coming off of a game where reserve quarterback James Blackman threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns in the defeated NC State, Taggart has yet to definitively say if Blackman will start this week against Notre Dame. Or, will he turn back to veteran quarterback Deondre Francois, who’s been banged up himself but is also had inconsistent play.
Notre Dame had opened as an 18-point favorite against FSU that line is now down to 16 and may drop more with Book out of the game.
Right move for FSU-Taggart to have Walt Bell call plays rest of season
One, as we had written coming off the Clemson debacle blowout, Florida State did in fact turn back to last year’s starter and sophomore James Blackman Saturday. All Blackman did was throw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in the defeat.
The other component that went with that QB decision was coach Willie Taggart relinquishing his play-calling duties to his thirty-four-year-old offense of coordinator, Walt Bell.
Bell was hired away from the University of Maryland as their offensive coordinator, when Taggart got the job last December. Though they hadn’t coached together, he wanted Bell to help install the energetic, and at times frenetic, “Gulf Coast offense” in Tallahassee that Taggart had run at USF and Oregon.
The offense is predicated on the spread formation and playing incredibly fast, sometimes only taking seconds in between plays before getting another snap off.
Florida State has obviously struggled with the transition to that offense, in large part with poor offensive line play.
Taggart announced on Monday after Florida State’s practice that he will allow Bell to call the offense starting with this week’s game in South Bend against Notre Dame and continuing for the rest of the year. Taggart said he feels there are too many other areas of need that he needs to be overseeing especially during the game then worrying as much about play calls on offense.
Bell is considered a rising star, and the move by Taggart shows maturity, as a coach to try to help the struggling offensive unit. A source close to the FSU coaching staff said to F.F.I. of the move to have Bell call the plays, “it was overdue” and “probably should have happened a couple of weeks ago,” and further added it will “only make the Noles better in the long run.”
Back to Blackman, he’s a very popular player in the locker room and did show at times poise and accuracy even while under fire that Deondre Francois never consistently produced during his previous eight starts this year.
Again, no one is under the illusion that this change by Taggart on who calls the plays and who’s actually the quarterback through the end of this season is going to suddenly make Florida State go on a roll.
Their schedule is simply too tough.
However, there’s a strong argument that this is a foundation for 2019 at and beyond for FSU with both play-caller & signal-caller on the field
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