For Florida State, it was a nightmare in slow motion.
Just a week after dismantling the seventh-ranked team in the country, the Seminoles fumbled four times, scored just seven points, and squandered opportunity after opportunity against an upstart South Florida team that gladly took advantage.
For the more than 70,000 Florida State fans in attendance, the result was a 17-7 loss that will sting for a long, long time.
If only Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles could win the games they were supposed to win.
If only the Seminoles still had the killer instinct that once made Florida State a fixture among the nation’s elite teams.
Saturday’s game was an unprecedented gut check for an FSU team that has fallen a long way since the so-called glory days—days that are becoming more and more distant as Florida State’s struggles continue.
However, unlike so many college football fans, analysts, and media pundits, I refuse to throw Florida State to the wolves, and I refuse to put South Florida up on a pedestal.
Don’t get me wrong—it was a great win for the Bulls, and South Florida seems to have a rising talent in freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels. If respect is what USF was after, they earned it and then some.
But a member of the so-called “Big Three?” I don’t think so. Not now. Not yet.
Look, any underdog can get excited about a chance to upset a ranked team on the road—Florida State did it last week at No. 7 BYU—but one game is still one game.
The “Big Three” are the “Big Three” because of their winning traditions, their history of success, and, most importantly, their national championships: Miami has five, Florida has three, and Florida State has two.
I keep putting the “Big Three” in quotations because I’m not sure who coined the term, and I’m not sure what it means. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard the phrase until Jim Leavitt and the Bulls started crying for attention.
But when I think of Florida’s “Big Three,” I think of the state’s top three football programs—programs that have consistent track records of success; programs that started from scratch and worked their way to the very top.
As fast as South Florida has grown, developed, and found success as a football program, the team hasn’t finished higher than third in its own conference, nevertheless had a legitimate shot at a national championship.
In a column entitled, “With this victory, USF Bulls prove they’ve caught up to the Florida State Seminoles,” John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times writes, “Understand, it is no longer a rare achievement to beat Florida State. In recent years, it seems nearly half the teams on FSU's schedule have had the honor.”
Despite Mr. Romano’s backhanded insult, he goes on to further praise South Florida’s achievement as a legitimizing win for the program. So...wait...is it a big win or not?
Could it not be true that Florida State, as a team, fell to South Florida’s level on Saturday, and not that some cosmic shift has begun to realign the state’s top football programs?
Considering the fact that FSU went 1-for-4 on scoring chances in the red zone, fumbled the ball away four times, and had another touchdown called back thanks to a holding penalty—I think so.
After all, if it was such an impressive win, why didn’t voters put the undefeated Bulls in the top 25?
Florida State came out flat and stayed that way. South Florida took advantage and pulled off the upset. That’s all there is to it.
Is Leavitt going to try to take advantage of this win and use it to fuel South Florida’s recruiting efforts? Of course he is. But does this game really change history and college football in Florida as we know it? No, it doesn’t.
Michigan lost to Appalachian State; does that mean the Mountaineers have the better program?
Over the past few years, the mighty Trojans of USC have fallen to Stanford, Washington, Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA. Does that mean Pete Carroll’s team is a dying breed in the Pac-10?
In a 14-year period from 1987 to 2000, Florida State beat the Gators 11 times. Did fans of either team stop calling it a rivalry?
Eventually, Bobby Bowden will call it quits, and the program will finally turn over a new leaf and catch up to the modern era. Eventually, Florida State will stop giving teams the benefit of the doubt and start playing football again no matter who stands on the opposite sideline. Eventually, the Seminoles will bounce back.
When they do, Jim Leavitt will still be chasing recruits that either flew under the radar or couldn’t quite qualify at other schools. He’ll still be lobbying for attention, he’ll still be telling stories about how he used to work out of a trailer, and the Bulls will still be playing in someone else’s stadium.
The South Florida Bulls are a great story, and this year, they beat Florida State. But the South Florida hype that peaked Saturday will die out soon enough—just like it did in 2007 when the Bulls rose to a No. 2 national ranking and slipped right back into irrelevancy.
Saturday, after one start, college football analyst Jesse Palmer compared USF quarterback B.J. Daniels to former FSU Heisman winner Charlie Ward. I mean...whoa. If that isn’t an example of the over-the-top, sensational hype that has become all too common in sports media today, I don’t know what is.
But it’s that kind of over-the-top, wishful thinking that makes some believe that decades of college football history can be forgotten and rewritten in one day.
The Seminoles are down, but they’re not dead. Like it or not, Florida State is still a top-three program in the Sunshine State.
After so many years of dominance, it’s easy to say the Seminoles are no longer up to par. But people forget that Florida State has not suffered a losing season since 1976. People also forget that Florida State has the longest active bowl streak of any team in college football.
South Florida may have won a battle against a member of the “Big Three,” but the war is far from over. When the dust finally settles and the media hype dies down, the Bulls will still be sitting on the outside looking in.