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Terry Bowden Preseason Interview

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By BJ Bennett
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We welcome in the start of the college football season with a discussion with former Auburn head coach and current Yahoo Sports columnist Terry Bowden.

By B.J. Bennett and Kevin Thomas Staff

We welcome in the start of the college football season with a discussion with former Auburn head coach and current Yahoo Sports columnist Terry Bowden.


Few people have a better perspective on southern college football than Terry Bowden.  The former Auburn head football coach, where he went 11-0 in 1993, has the second-highest winning percentage (of any coach with two years or more) in school history.  Bowden is also a member of the first family of southern college football.  His father Bobby is the all-time wins leader in Division One history at Florida State; brother Tommy is the head coach at Clemson, the pre-season favorite in the ACC; brother Jeff was a long-tenured assistant at FSU.  Currently, Terry is a college football columnist for Yahoo Sports. 

Needless to say, Terry Bowden knows his stuff.  If anyone is qualified to talk about southern college football, it’s him. 

Looking at his former league, the SEC, Bowden foresees a heated race at the top.  Like everyone else, he expects Florida and Georgia to battle it out in the SEC East. 
“Analysts, like myself, around the country have got Florida and Georgia pegged as the top two teams this year to compete for that national championship,” Bowden explained.  ” I would say because of the schedule you give a little bit of an edge to Florida.  I say just because of the schedule, they do have a Heisman Trophy quarterback coming back and I think that’s a factor in their favor, although both teams have great quarterbacks coming back.  Both teams have talent.  Georgia ended up the season number two last year.  I think Florida’s schedule is a little more conducive to winning.”

The key for any team, whether it be Florida or Georgia, or LSU or Auburn, will be navigating a brutal league schedule if they hope to contend for a national championship.  Last season, the champion Tigers lost twice in the regular season.  The year before, the champion Gators lost once and needed a blocked field goal at the end of the South Carolina game to get a victory there.  With four SEC teams ranked in the Associated Press top ten, many are talking of the difficulty league teams will face in 2008.  Bowden sees the challenge as an annual test in the SEC.  

“In the SEC every single year you’ve got a Georgia, every other year at Georgia, you got LSU and Florida back to back.  It’s a tough league.  It’s a tough league,” Bowden continued.  “Sometimes I think the hyperbole gets so big that you tend to overstate how big it is this year.  It was big last year, it was big the year before.  The SEC has so many outstanding teams.  Even LSU, you think about their championship run and all the big games they had, they didn’t even win them all.  It’s a tough league.  And now they are paying so much money, there are tough coaches.  I think sometimes we may create the sense that this year is tougher than before, but believe me these coaches have faced a lot of tough schedules before this year.”

As for the Bulldogs, who were named the pre-season number one team in the nation in both major polls, Bowden thinks their schedule will be a motivating factor this fall.

“You can no longer say, when you’re ranked so high in the pre-season and when you were number two at the end of last year, everyone is wanting you to take advantage of an opportunity.  You’ve got an opportunity to play for a national championship with the type of team you’ve got coming back, so don’t blow it against South Carolina or Central Michigan early.  Arizona State on the road is gonna be a bear.  So again, I don’t think you can just say our goal is to win the conference at Georgia. When you have an opportunity, when it’s recognized around the country that you are one of the contenders for the national championship, they all become big and I think what that is going to do is allow the coaches at Georgia to really get the attention of the players.  They have got to play very, very well early to make sure that they don’t stumble.  I know Georgia Southern is probably not at their level, but even Central Michigan can score a lot of points.  South Carolina knows how to play against Georgia.  Arizona State is very good also.”

One of those top ten teams mentioned above, the Auburn Tigers, is a program Bowden is pretty familiar with.  With change standing as a theme for the Tigers this fall, Bowden thinks this could big a big year for his former school.

“You have to be interested in what’s going on at Auburn.  A lot of people talk about who’s the best coach in the SEC and I don’t think I could even pick one.  There are so many good ones right now.  I think the SEC is experiencing great coaching wealth and that’s tongue in cheek a little bit but there’s great coaching wealth in the conference.  But Tuberville, really, he comes up every two or three years with an outstanding team.  I like his new offensive coordinator,” Bowden explained.  “If you say there’s a sleeper, I guess they would be a sleeper because he’s probably picked to win the SEC west, if LSU with their quarterback situation as it is, I would think Auburn has a chance to win the west and then that would put them in the dark horse role.  A chance to step up there and maybe slide in.”

As for Alabama improving and pushing towards contention, Bowden offers insight on the Crimson Tide as well.

“Well, they will be better.  I don’t think they are contending yet.  They’re just on their way.  First of all a coach like Nick Saban, who is a lot about my way or the highway, he is very demanding in that you do things his way.  If you look at what happened his first year at LSU – it was very much like Rich Rodriguez in his first year at West Virginia.  Sometimes they go backwards before they go forward.  You might take a coach that is much more of a guy who brings people together and is accepting of people the way they are…they may win big early but not have as much success down the road,” Bowden stated.  “I think Nick is still a couple of years down the road.  He’s got a good quarterback, not a great one.  He’s got a good team, not a great team.  They will be better.  He never has had stability in coaching staffs, that’s just part of the Nick Saban aura, that you’re going to work for him a little bit, but you’re probably going to move on.  He is changing coaches a lot but I think his talent is better but not best.  I don’t think they are yet able to contend and it’s not going to be as fast as those fans want it.  I think he knows exactly where he wants to go and how he’s gonna get there.”

Few teams this pre-season have garnered as much consensus support as the favorite in their conference as Clemson.  The Tigers boast arguably the best skill position talent in all of college football and had quarterback Cullen Harper, running back James Davis and running back C.J. Spiller picked one, two and three in the ACC Player of the Year voting at league media days.  Expectations are soaring for Tommy Bowden and Clemson, and brother Terry sees why.

“I think this is his best football team.  He’s got two of the best backs in the country, a veteran quarterback who had a great year.  His defense was top ten last year with a lot of people back.  He’s got a very good team – his best team.  He really needs to come up there and win that conference or get to that conference championship game.  He’s not going to be fired, he just got a new contract, I think we can quit talking about is he going to be fired if he doesn’t.  But he needs to step up with this team.  This is a year which he should have a great chance to win the conference championship.  Expectations will be very high.  They always are at Clemson.  Nobody has been real happy at Clemson since Danny Ford won a national championship,” Bowden recalls.  “They got put on probation and nothing has quite gotten back through three coaches to where they would like it to be.  It’s Tommy’s best team.  As a brother, I hope his story is more like the Tom Osbourne story and the Mack Brown story.  That his success comes later in life.  But this is a year where I think Clemson really has a chance to win the conference.”

Another interesting storyline to watch in the ACC is that of Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech.  From analysts to coaches to players on down, there is a consensus of interest this fall surrounding the installation of the triple-option offense at a BCS conference program.  Bowden feels no different. 

“As we talk about storylines for 2008, from an X and O standpoint, I think what Paul Johnson is attempting to do at GA Tech is the best storyline in college football this year in regard to Xs and Os.  And that is, can you run a true one dimensional triple option type offense in Division I football?  I mean, you really can’t compare it to South Florida or Oregon or West Virginia or even Florida who are running the shotgun spread, the zone read option, because that offense is built upon the premise that we’re going to spread out and throw the ball first.  Now you may never have to throw it but it’s built upon a quarterback in the shotgun who has the ability to throw the football,” Bowden explained.  “Paul Johnson is going to bring in an offense that, like Oklahoma in the 70’s or Alabama in the 70’s, is built upon a quarterback who is under center who is going to run the option and is going to spend all his time in practice running the option and there is no passing threat.  And unless he changes everything he did at Navy and everything he did before that at Georgia Southern, it’s going to be a revisit of the true one dimensional triple option offense.”

There was a great debate in the college football world during the off-season as to if that style of offense is going to work.  Georgia Tech opens their season on Thursday, August 28th at home against Jacksonville State.  In week two, they travel to Boston College to face one of the ACC’s top defenses. 

“Now personally, I think it can succeed.  I think there are a bunch of defensive coordinators that don’t have any idea how to defend the on-line option.  The great coordinators like Will Muschamp who played at Georgia, worked for me at Auburn as a GA, and I think he’s as good as anybody in the country – he’s at Texas now.  I don’t know that he has ever seen a true triple option offense very often.  I don’t think these young defensive coordinators have seen what it is Paul Johnson is going to do and I think there is going to be a newness that is going to be very effective.  I don’t know the answer to will it be, I think it will.  You know they said Florida couldn’t run that spread option zone read offense in the SEC, it was way too fast.  Well, I don’t think they’re saying that anymore.  We’ll just see how Paul Johnson does.  It’s going to be fun.  I’ve been dying to see it.  I’ve been dying for somebody to bring it back.  I just happen to think he’ll have a lot of success with it.”

The struggles of father Bobby and Florida State, along with those of Miami, have led to diminishing respect for the ACC nationwide.  Expansion that was supposed to bring national prominence, has not in the eyes of many. 

“You know, it’s funny.  We sometimes put the two subjects in the same category.  That is, the expansion and where they stand today.  That is, where they stand today – does that mean the expansion was a success or not a success?  Fundamentally there’s one problem in the ACC: Florida State and Miami.  They’re not what they used to be.  That’s not the ACC’s fault, that’s not expansion’s fault; that’s the fault of those two programs; they are not what they used to be.  Miami won five national championships from 1983 to what 2001; Florida State won two in the 90’s.  Well, they are both very average teams right now.  If they play great football, if they’re annually top five teams like they were for twenty five years, then the ACC is maybe the best conference or is at least equal to the SEC, but until those two teams get back, and I think they should, whether they will or not this year or next year I don’t know, but they should, there’s no reason in that state with all those players they should not be, but that’s the reason the ACC is not as strong as it should be.  Those two teams, because North Carolina comes and goes, Boston College comes and goes, Georgia Tech, Clemson on down the road, those two teams with all the athletes in that state should be top five teams every year,” Bowden said.   
As for Florida State and Miami, two teams who combined to go 13-13 last season, who does Terry see returning to the national elite first?

“I don’t know that either of them is yet ready to compete for the conference championship.  I sometimes think I don’t have the objectivity I need to have as an analyst even though I’ve been doing this for ten years now, when I speak of Florida State because I tend to think my Dad is right no matter what,” he laughed.  “I believe he has got things moving in the right direction.  I believe he knew what he was doing when he hired five new coaches, hired a new strength coach, brought Chuck Amato back.  I believe he’s been delegating since the mid-90’s.  He won a national championship in ‘93 hands on.  He won a championship in ‘99 by delegating and I think he delegated to really qualified people.  And I think they’re on their way back.  I think he has one more good run in him.  Now whether that’s a championship of the conference or a championship of the nation I’m not sure.  I don’t think either of them is this year.  Now Miami, though, the question with Miami I think, you’d have to say based upon last year, do they have the right pieces in place from a head coach all the way down?  Randy Shannon is a great defensive coordinator, he loves Miami, went to high school there, went to college there, he coached there all his life.  Now is he a head coach?  Is he a great head coach?  We’re gonna find that out, because there is nothing in his resume that would be able to tell us, because it’s his first head coaching job.  And I think he’s done a great job recruiting.  Defensively he kind of shocked me because they went backwards and he was the guy that ran the defense.  So we’re going to see how that goes.  I would say Florida State only because we do have a book on Bobby Bowden, we don’t have much of a book on Randy Shannon.”

As for his famous father, Terry has the same relationship with college football’s wins leader as any son would with their dad. 

“You know he tells me this is the way it’s going to be and that’s what I believed when I was a kid and that’s what I believe now,” he laughed. 

On the eve of the start of college football, we’ll see if dad Bobby, and son Terry, are right soon enough.



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BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’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: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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