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Florida State Seminoles

Right move for FSU-Taggart to have Walt Bell call plays rest of season

Florida Football Insiders



Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Two things were different during Saturday’s loss for Florida State at NC State that actually bode well for the future of the FSU offense.

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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Florida State Seminoles

Florida State has bigger concerns than keeping bowl streak alive

Matt Zemek



Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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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Florida State Seminoles

1993 distant, yet relevant, as FSU returns to Notre Dame

Matt Zemek



Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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:

1969 Texas-Arkansas.

1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma.

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.

No. 1 versus No. 2 late in the season — and not in a conference championship game.

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.

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Florida State Seminoles

Notre Dame QB Ian Book out for FSU game?

Florida Football Insiders



Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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 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.

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