- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Nearly 40 years ago, Florida State dropped Georgia 18-0 in Athens and began one of college football's most arrogant traditions. The Seminoles dug up a chunk of turf from Sanford Stadium and buried it next to their practice field in Tallahassee.
Over the years, stadium sod from many of the nation's most prestigious programs has found an ignominious new home in the Seminoles' famed "Sod Cemetery."
By the end of this season, however, look for a fresh patch of earth from nearby Doak Campbell Stadium to appear in the cemetery. Perhaps Steve Spurrier or George O'Leary or Tommy Bowden or Larry Coker will be kind enough to provide a tombstone bearing the following inscription for the new plot of grass:
"Florida State Football…1987-2001…Nothing lasts forever."
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Over the last 14 seasons, Florida State has epitomized consistency on a college football landscape otherwise defined by ephemeral bursts of brilliance.
Coach Bobby Bowden's Seminoles have posted 10 or more wins in 14 consecutive seasons, finishing in the top 5 of the Associated Press poll in each of those years. During that incomparable stretch, Florida State won two national titles (1993 and '99), made five trips to the title game, produced 28 first-team All-Americans and sent 127 players to the NFL.
And then there's FSU's complete mastery of the ACC, the conference foolish enough to admit the Seminoles in 1992. Since joining the ACC, FSU has either won or shared the league title every season, bending the eight dwarves over its knee to administer 70 spankings in 72 league games.
The Seminoles, who have not lost in Doak Campbell Stadium since Nov. 16, 1991 (vs. Miami), have never stumbled in an ACC home game (36-0).
With any luck, they enjoyed the ride because it's comeuppance time for the Garnet and Gold.
"Florida State needs to hand the torch to someone else," N.C. State preseason All-American linebacker Levar Fisher said at ACC Media Day. "Personally, I look to Georgia Tech. I think they're the team to beat in our league."
Fisher isn't some embittered loudmouth rabble-rousing for the ACC's downtrodden also-rans; he's simply a realist. And like most others familiar with the situation at FSU, Fisher knows a dying dynasty when he sees one.
"Every season when we get ready for that first game, I can judge my nervousness on my eating," Bowden said after FSU's final scrimmage last week. "Right now I want to eat everything in sight."
Quite frankly, Bowden could finish this season with two new chins and a Friedgen-sized wardrobe that's how suspect the Seminoles are on both sides of the ball and on the sidelines.

Staff defections

Let's start with coaching concerns.
Before last season, Bowden's assistant coach for 18 years, Chuck Amato, bolted for N.C. State. Amato was Bowden's sideline dragon, the facemask-chewing disciplinarian who could make All-Americans cower with his tirades. In FSU's losses to Miami and Oklahoma last season, intensity was an issue, but Amato was ranting in Raleigh.
Even before the Seminoles fell to the Sooners in the Orange Bowl, 15th-year offensive coordinator Mark Richt already accepted the coaching job at Georgia. Concerned that Richt might already have Georgia on his mind, Bowden and his youngest son, Jeff, took a more active role in the game plan against the Sooners.
The Seminoles, who averaged 42.3 points in 12 regular-season games with Richt directing Heisman winner Chris Weinke, embarrassingly failed to score on offense in the 13-2 loss to the Sooners.
Like Amato, Richt is gone. And instead of conducting a search for a proven offensive coordinator, Bowden was allowed to promote Jeff to the position. The move conflicted with the state school's nepotism rules, but Bowden threatened to resign if the promotion wasn't confirmed, leaving the Seminoles with an offensive coordinator who has never called a Division I-A game.
"For the first time in a long time, I've been a little more hands-on with the offense in terms of what we're doing and input," Bowden said last week. "Some of that has to do with the staff changes, but more of it is because we have a youngster back there playing quarterback. It ain't like when we had Weinke and you could sort of put him on autopilot."

Personnel problems

With Weinke gone to the NFL, the Seminoles will turn the reins of the offense over to redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Rix. And while Rix has a comparable arm and more mobility than Weinke (most trees could make that claim), nobody in Tallahassee expected Rix to open the season (Saturday at Duke) as the Seminoles starter.
In his 25 years at FSU, Bowden has never started a freshman quarterback. But in recent months, the 71-year-old coach has watched his options behind center steadily evaporate.
First, rising junior Jared Jones, a former prep No. 1 quarterback expected to take over for Weinke, was kicked off the team last spring for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
Then, prep phenom Joe Mauer, the cornerstone of FSU's top-ranked recruiting class, was selected by Minnesota with the first pick in the baseball amateur draft and signed with the Twins in July.
Finally, junior flanker Anquan Boldin, the best athlete on the team and a possibility at quarterback, blew out his knee in practice the same week as starting split end Robert Morgan. That left the team desperately depleted at both quarterback and receiver.
"The last two years, we've had like two semipro teams loaded at every position," said senior safety Chris Hope, one of only seven returning starters for the Seminoles. "Compared to those teams, we're vulnerable."
That's a drastic understatement; aside from Rix, the Seminoles will open the season with two freshman receivers in the four-man rotation, an injury-plagued tailback (Nick Maddox), two unproven linebackers and three first-year starters in the secondary.

Inevitable thud

The demise of a dynasty is never a pretty sight. Just ask Joe Paterno, whose "grand experiment" at Penn State officially fizzled during last season's 5-7 debacle.
Like Paterno, who trails Bear Bryant by just one game on the list of all-time Division I-A coaching victories heading into the season, Bowden also has Bryant's record within his reach (trailing by eight victories).
But perhaps there is another parallel forming between Bowden and his idol, Bryant. Before FSU, Alabama was the last team to dominate college football for a similar decade-plus stretch. But in 1982, after an 11-year run in which Alabama posted a 116-15-1 record and won three national titles, Bryant's boys slipped to 8-4, prompting the Bear to retire.
Bowden's current crop looks much like that dynasty-snapping Alabama squad. And if FSU played in a traditional football conference like the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12, four losses would be a virtual certainty for the Seminoles.
As it is, even the members of the hoops-first ACC are smiling about the Seminoles' weakened status, circling Tallahassee like so many vultures over a downed carcass.
Eleventh-ranked Georgia Tech has visions of becoming the first team to win an ACC game at Florida State (Sept. 15). No. 19 Clemson and Tommy Bowden can't wait to play host to papa's boys at Death Valley (Nov. 3). And in-state rivals Florida (No. 1) and Miami (No. 2) both enter the season ranked higher than Florida State (No. 6) for the first time in Bowden's tenure in Tallahassee.
"We've got some holes, no doubt about it," Bowden said when confronted with his team's many soft spots. "Because of that, people would like to say the pressure is off. The heck it is. We ain't lost at home since 1991. Think we want to lose now? We've had 14 straight years of 10 or more wins, 14 straight years of top-5s, a bunch of national championship games. These kids don't want to be the first team that breaks that. That's pressure."
A pressure that finally looks likely to break Bowden's cracked colossus.


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