As we quickly approach gametime for Florida State VS. Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl on December29th, I asked the fine folks over at Unconquered Noles to sit the hell down for a second and answer some of my most important questions regarding the Florida State Seminole football program.
Let’s chop it out:
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a 2 part Q&A with Unconquered Noles. Look for part 2 on Tuesday the 27th. You can check out Subway Domer’s responses over on their site as well. Go and check it out y’all!)
1. Jimbo Fisher is at the end of his second year as the Head Coach for Florida State. What are your general feelings about Fisher, the job he has done thus far, and any hopes and/or fears for the future?
UN: My feelings towards Jimbo haven’t changed a ton, despite a disappointing 2011. I think he has done a great job of laying a foundation for a winning program. He is 4-0 against the two instate rivals and continues to outpace them, as well as most other teams in the talent rich Southeast, on the recruiting trail. That being said, there are reasons for concern and plenty of legitimate critiques against Fisher. This season, Fisher had a great deal of personal turmoil to deal with in his life regarding family health and tragedy, which one can imagine would have an impact on him professionally. These types of events are not something you would blame Fisher for, but it did highlight how his unwillingness to delegate more responsibilities among his staff members may be a hindrance to his overall effectiveness as head coach. He is the only voice of the of the program. Meaning that after every game and every practice, the only person available for comment is Fisher, no assistants. He calls the shots, he calls the offensive plays, is obviously very hands on in recruiting and handles the day to day operations of the program. The concern here is that he may be spreading himself too thin and it simply isn’t all necessary or conducive to his success.
The biggest issue on the field that Fisher will have to address is the offensive line. He has built solid to acceptable depth at most every position within the program with the exception of the front five on offense. This is the last position group for him to flip and shore up. The problem and concern is that if it hasn’t happened in the past four years of him being at FSU (three years as offensive coordinator), there’s no guarantee that year five will be the magic number. If Fisher’s offense can field an adequate line in 2012, all excuses will be out of the door.
2. Much like Notre Dame (only more so), Florida State was expected to do much bigger things in 2011. Instead, your Noles are 8-4, ranked #25th, and headed to the Champs Sports Bowl. What’s up with that?
UN: I would attribute much of Florida State’s disappointing season to both poor injury luck and youth. I have been one that has maintained the belief that this was a good football team that was gutted by injury. Before the season, I projected FSU to go 11-2 with a shot at an ACC Championship. I was aware of potential issues on the offensive line, but those were issues that I grossly underestimated. The play from that segment was poor to average for the majority of the year and had a lot to do with the fact that five of Florida State’s top nine offensive linemen suffered some type of significant injury. The depth and experience simply was not there. Three different freshmen were depended on for significant playing time at one point or another this season.
The Noles had two very avoidable and honestly, inexcusable losses in conference play. Losses to Wake Forest and UVA are not the types of blips on the radar that anyone from the FSU fanbase expected, especially from a head coach who preaches the importance of focusing on the process of execution. From a talent standpoint, the only two teams on Florida State’s conference schedule that should have presented formidable challenges were Miami and Clemson. For those who follow the program, it was certainly aggravating to finally have a team that is visibly more talented but continues to be held back by poor execution, penalties and discipline. The conclusion that I drew from this season was that Florida State is a good, but not great team. A great team can come out somewhat sluggish and overcome that adversity within a game against lesser opponents. Examples would be LSU or Alabama. Florida State could not afford to have lapses in play, because they were not quite at a level where they could completely dominate a team at the flip of a switch. Ultimately all this means is that FSU is still on it’s way and has not yet arrived.
3. Notre Dame and Florida State have only played 6 times in their history. The Noles lead the series with a 4-2 record. Despite this, there is a lot of “bad blood” between the two different fanbases. Notre Dame is used to this as pretty much everyone hates the Irish. Do you think this “bad blood” is still existing from that 3 year stretch of games from 1993-1995, recruiting battles, the media love/hate; or do you see this as a half-truth?
UN: I would argue that the hate is still pretty healthy, or at least as healthy as it can be for two teams who don’t play each other on a regular basis. Both programs at this point are fighting their way back into prominence, which proves to obviously be a difficult task. Both programs receive their obligatory hype going into a season and backlash when expectations aren’t met, so they definitely have this in common.
You touched on the recruiting battles, which are still alive and well. The most recently notable being the battle over standout DE Aaron Lynch and his flip flopping between both schools before making Notre Dame his home. Many believe that Lynch’s decision to go to ND had an impact on freshman OT Jordan Prestwood’s decision to transfer from FSU to ND this fall. These are fresh wounds and Lynch, in particular, is one that many FSU fans are still not over.
4. Speaking of 1993… The Game of that Century was massive. I read that the media credentials handed out for the 93 game was more than double of those that were given for this years Alabama vs LSU game. What are your feelings about that game, a “tainted” national title, and what that game meant to Bowden and Florida State as a whole?
UN: As someone who wrote at the time of the game for FSView, FSU’s student newspaper, that was the biggest regular season road game in Florida State history. We sent our sports editor (and current Texas defensive coordinator) Manny Diaz to cover that game. What I remember about that game is how poorly FSU played for the 2nd quarter but well for the other three. ND made the most of their opportunities and deserved to win. When the game eneded, I felt like FSU may never win a national championship, especially after losing heartbreakers to Mi ami in 1987, 1991 (THE biggest regular season game in FSU history) and 1992. Then, thanks to David Gordon (and Lou Holtz once again showing he was a great coach in big games and an average coach in lesser games) of Boston College, Florida State got a second chance and made the most of it.
What that game meant to Bowden (who had already won in South Bend in 1981) and Florida State was the difference being a very good national championship team and being one of the greatest of all time. I had a radio show in 1994 at WTAL 1450 in Tallahssee and asked Connell Spain, a defensive tackle on that 1993 team, what he felt about losing at Notre Dame. He told me at the time as great as it was to go 12-1 and win FSU’s 1st national title, they felt they could have been hailed as the greatest team of all time with the schedule they ended up playing that year had they won on November 13, 1993.
As for a tainted national title, based on the system at the time, I feel how it all played out is very similar to 2010. It was such a great game, and #2 ND beat #1 at home, so by virtue of a 31-24 loss, the pollsters did the right thing the day after that game and flip-flopped ND and FSU, which probably would have set up a 1-2 rematch in the Fiesta if ND won their last game and FSU won out. When ND lost the next week at home to Boston College 41-39 (and I believe BC was ranked 18th or so at the time), it was viewed as a bad loss, and FSU won 62-3 that night. FSU regained #1 and kept it the next week by beating Florida at the Swamp (Steve Spurrier’s first loss in 24 home games as Florida coach) 33-21 while ND unfortunately had no games left. When it came time for bowls, based on their set-up, the Orange Bowl (who had undefeated Nebraska as an anchor), elected to take #1 FSU, which was absolutely the right thing to do to match #1 and #2. Bottom line: if Notre Dame doesn’t lose AT HOME to Boston College, they play for the National Title.
5. Although 8-4 is still respectable in some circles, I would venture to guess that most FSU fans were disappointed this season. You had plenty of company as the BIG 3 of Florida were all “meh” this year. How in the hell does that happen? How does the top 3 football schools in the most talent rich state in the country only manage a combined record of 20-16 and only one ranked team at #25? How is this possible?
UN: Schools in the state of Florida are all in a state of transition, which is something that rarely happens at the same time. FSU is unquestionably the most stable of the three currently and there is some question as to whether or not Miami will be able to survive potential and likely NCAA sanctions. Entering the bowl game, Florida State has won 18 games in the past two seasons while UM and UF have won 13 and 15 respectively.
UF has their own issues with their staff and trying to build both sides of the ball into matching strong forces, after making what some are considering poor hires in the wake of losing Urban Meyer. The Gator defense had a great year, but that is obviously not reflected in their record. If their next hire on the offensive side of the ball is a good one, they’ll likely be headed in the right direction sooner rather than later. Unfortunately (for them lol), their bowl game with Ohio State will decide whether or not they have a winning or losing season. Fan support has been noticeably trending downward in Gainesville and a 6-7 final record will not help one bit.
6. OK, now it’s your turn to be OH SO VERY, VERY WRONG… What are your feelings about Notre Dame football? Please include a real stat in your assessment, and you must also provide an outsiders “Glimmer of Hope” for the Irish (what are the positives moving forward for ND).
UN: I think Brian Kelly is a good coach and the 2011 Notre Dame team is much better than their record indicates. Kelly had a few missteps and questionable judgment moments involving controversial comments towards his team and is certainly not known for a calm demeanor on the sidelines (neither is Jimbo Fisher), but overall I think he knows what it will take to win at Notre Dame. Unless the jokes of the Irish being cursed are true, I would have to believe that the turnaround is in fact taking place at ND and it’s only a matter of time before the record reflects that.
(Thanks again to Unconquered Noles, and come on back for more coverage of the Champs Sports Bowl)