Back Florida State’s Strange Season

Back To ACC

Florida State’s Strange Season

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin.  Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page

Through all of the disappointment ultimately came direction.

This was not a good season for Florida State. Entering the year with national championship expectations, the season ended with six losses and an interim head coach. The Seminoles tied a dubious mark with the program's most defeats since 1975, undergoing their first true coaching search since the end of that same fall. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Florida State did. Through all of the disappointment, however, ultimately came direction.    

From playing Alabama in the most-hyped opener in history to having to win four of five to get bowl eligible, the Seminoles stretched both ends of the college football spectrum. There was very little middle ground, and Florida State, quite frankly, struggled to find footing. After star quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the year against the Crimson Tide with a patella tendon injury, the Seminoles didn't just drop their opener, team confidence took a nose-dive as well.

The loss of Francois was magnified by previous roster attrition under center. Thin at the game's most important position, the Seminoles turned to undersized true freshman James Blackman. A weather adjusted schedule reshuffled the slate, with Florida State not playing its second game until September 23rd and, Alabama included, the Seminoles opened with seven straight bowl opponents. 

In a span of mere weeks, the Florida State we expected to see became a Florida State we barely knew. A heartbreaking loss to undefeated rival Miami, one where the Hurricanes scored on a 23-yard game-winning touchdown pass with six seconds remaining, only exaggerated the Seminoles' struggles. In a series with countless unmistakable memories, Malik Rosier's late score to Darrell Langham left Florida State in a place it had not been in over 40 years: 1-3.  

As difficult as the Miami loss was to take, an untimely turnover against Louisville cost the Seminoles a chance at a victory two weeks later. With the game tied at 28 late in the fourth quarter and Florida State just outside the redzone, an unforced Blackman fumble resulted in game-winning field goal for the Cardinals two minutes later. Before Blanton Creque converted his try, the Louisville kicker shanked his first attempt as the Seminoles, fittingly, called timeout. Adding insult to injury, head coach Jimbo Fisher had a heated post-game exchange with a fan.

The worst, still, was yet to come. Florida State looked completely disjointed in a 35-3 Friday night loss at Boston College, going touchdown-less in a game for the first time since 2008. By the end of October, the Seminoles were 2-5, with their lone wins, at Wake Forest and at Duke, coming in contests that both came down the final play. Florida State, in terms of extending its NCAA-record bowl streak, was on the ropes; after getting blown out on Chestnut Hill, some wondered if the Seminoles would get up off the mat.

Hosting Syracuse, who had just upset top-ranked Clemson and played top ten Miami within one score, Florida State was finally fortunate. After a late rally by the Orange, Syracuse kicker Cole Murphy missed a 43-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation that would have sent the meeting into overtime. The Seminoles got their first home win of 2017 in November. Florida State's silver lining was orange.

A hard-fought loss at Clemson presented the Seminoles was a simple set of circumstances: win three straight to continue the program's iconic bowl streak and win four straight to finish with a winning record for a record 41st consecutive season. History dating back to the start of the Bobby Bowden era was on the line. Albeit outside of the national spotlight, one way or another Florida State's finish would be remembered.

As the potential of the end of an era loomed, innuendo began to swirl. One year after LSU hotly pursued Fisher, Texas A&M emerged as a serious suitor. Already a trying season for the Seminoles, constant updates regarding their head coach only added to the drama. Fisher, in interviews, was non-committal. Rumors slowly shifted towards reality.

Meanwhile, Florida State rolled Delaware State before setting up a key clash with rival Florida. A win would put the Seminoles in position to clinch bowl eligibility with a rescheduled victory over Louisiana-Monroe; a loss would have Florida State playing a largely-irrelevant make-up game on championship Saturday. Thanks to two defensive scores, the Seminoles drubbed the Gators 38-22, tying the program's mark for most points scored in the Swamp. The triumph was Florida State's fifth straight in the rivalry and seventh in eight tries overall. 

Fisher celebrated on the sidelines in the game's waning moments. Days later, four years after bringing a national championship to Tallahassee, he was gone. A fully guaranteed $75 million deal took Fisher to Texas A&M, leaving the Seminoles more stunned than disappointing endings against Miami and Louisville ever could. Florida State, which named Fisher head-coach-in-waiting while Bowden was still in charge, was without a head coach for the first time in over four decades.

That said, the Seminoles still had their leader. For as much of a blow as Francois' injury was to the team, the promotion of long-time assistant coach Odell Haggins was almost as uplifting. A former All-American defensive lineman for Florida State, Haggins has been with the Seminoles as for 27 of the last 30 years. He has only coached at Florida State. Emotional and grateful, he stepped into the interim role prior to team's final game; the Seminoles promptly won 42-10, securing a spot in the postseason.

Between that performance and Florida State's Independence Bowl triumph over Southern Miss, the Seminoles hired Oregon's Willie Taggart as Fisher's replacement. Growing up a Florida State fan, Taggart takes over after stints with the Ducks, South Florida and Western Kentucky, where he was a star quarterback. The energy around the Taggart hire has been very real, with the 41-year old salvaging the Seminoles' early recruiting class and reshaping the narrative around the program. That said, the man-in-the-middle should not be overlooked.

Haggins, with former roommate Deion Sanders in Shreveport, set the tone for an impressive, albeit somewhat-muted, Independence Bowl showing. Florida State tied a program postseason record with a 29-point win, with star performances from true freshmen Blackman and Cam Akers. Haggins, the Seminoles' first African-American head coach, finishes his interim stint at 2-0, providing Taggart with notable momentum as Florida State moves forward. The new head coach recently announced Haggins will be retained, adding the title Associate Head Coach.  

Bittersweet, the Seminoles still finished their final four outings outscoring the competition 199-51. With legacies in limbo, Florida State, with different quarterbacks and different head coaches, found a way.

Taggart takes over a team on a four-game winning streak and a group, hardened by adversity, with a suddenly-tested resolve. There is no way around it, the Seminoles greatly underachieved in 2017. In some ways, they also laid a strong foundation along the way.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports