Florida’s 3 traditional football powers ailing
For those troubled by what’s happening in college football
across the state of Florida right now, Jimbo Fisher offers two
reasons to have hope.
Not long ago, the Tigers and Crimson Tide were – by their lofty
standards – bad teams. Alabama finished 2007 absent from The
Associated Press Top 25 poll. Auburn spent much of the 2009 season
outside of the national rankings. Both recovered nicely, of course,
proven by the fact those programs are the last two teams to end the
season hoisting the crystal football that’s presented annually to
the national champion.
”Things happen for a reason,” said Fisher, the Florida State
Florida, Florida State and Miami would love to know what that
reason is – and how to fix the problem. The so-called ”Big 3” of
Sunshine State football share countless bonds, such as championship
traditions, Heisman Trophy winners, legendary coaches and enough
NFL players to fill a slew of pro rosters.
And now, add mediocrity to that list.
For the first time since Dec. 6, 1982, all are simultaneously
unranked in the AP poll. The Seminoles and Hurricanes have losing
records after five games. The season isn’t half over and all three
are already out of the national championship picture. Florida State
and Miami will need miracles to happen if they’re to have even a
tiny chance of getting back into the Atlantic Coast Conference
After 472 weeks in the rankings, 10 national titles and six
Heisman Trophies in the last three decades, the `Noles, Gators and
`Canes are starting anew.
”This is a surprising turn of events,” said Florida Atlantic
coach Howard Schnellenberger, who started the Sunshine State surge
by coaching Miami to the 1983 national championship and is now in
his final season before retirement. ”The law of gravity, even the
law of statistics, has disallowed this kind of a thing from
happening for a long time. But you can’t go on forever with
something this important.”
The erosion of the state’s hold on college football has been
going on for some time.
Miami’s fifth and last national title was in 2001, and the
Hurricanes haven’t even won an ACC championship yet since joining
that league nearly a decade ago. Florida State last appeared in a
BCS bowl game at the end of the 2005 season – and last won one of
those to conclude the 1999 national-title campaign. Florida has
captured two of the last five national championships, but even
after a 4-0 start this year, the Gators have lost seven times in
their last 15 games overall.
”Everybody loses one day,” Florida running back Chris Rainey
Yes, but those days used to be far less frequent.
For comparison’s sake, the Gators had lost only seven times in
61 games before this current 8-7 run.
”Do I see improvement? Yes,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said
this week, when asked about the state of his team following
consecutive losses to LSU and Alabama, who just happen to be ranked
No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP poll. ”Is it what we want it to be at
this point? No. Again, I look at the season for an entire season. I
don’t look at one game or two games or whatever. I’ve got to look
at the total body of work and where we are and where we’ve come
”Is it enough? Is it good enough at this point? No,” Muschamp
added. ”But it’s never going to be.”
There is one other obvious common thread at all three schools.
Fisher is in his second season, making him the longest-tenured
coach on the Seminole, Gator or Hurricane sidelines. Muschamp and
Miami’s Al Golden are in Year 1 of their respective jobs.
Even in a state where hundreds of high school players sign
college scholarships annually, winning at the college level isn’t
automatic anymore – especially when programs are in transition
phases. In fairness, all three of the Sunshine State traditional
powers have dealt with wild adversity already this season. Miami
was rocked before the year even began by an NCAA investigation that
still lingers, and the Hurricanes have been decimated by injuries
on defense as well. Florida and Florida State have dealt with
injuries to starting quarterbacks, huge blows to both teams.
”Health, depth, quarterback play, schedule,” Golden said.
”There’s a lot of variables that come into play.”
There’s also more places for players to play now.
Three decades ago, there was no Florida International football
program, no South Florida, no Central Florida, no Florida
Now they’re gobbling up plenty of talent from all around the
state. And while the balance of power isn’t totally shifting yet,
one could easily argue that the best team in the state is South
Florida, and the best player is FIU’s T.Y. Hilton.
”I would attribute it as much to stability as I would
anything,” South Florida coach Skip Holtz said Tuesday. ”I think
every one of the programs in state has an opportunity to continue
to build to get to that point (back in the Top 25) when the season
is over. I think there are still strong teams, but I just don’t
think we have the same stability we had for all those years.”
The Bulls have three bowl wins since 2007, matching Florida and
Florida State. Florida Atlantic won consecutive bowl games in 2007
and 2008 – the only team in the state to do so over that span. FIU
won its first bowl last year, capping a huge turnaround season for
the Panthers. UCF won its first bowl game in four tries last year.
Miami’s last bowl win came in 2006.
”I don’t know if it has all that much to do with all of us who
are new on the scene here,” said Schnellenberger, who founded
FAU’s program about a decade ago. ”I think the major contest lies
between the three oldest schools here in the state and the best
schools in the country. … The recruiting phase is just a small
part of it. You’ve got coaching changes, you’ve got more
So at Florida, Florida State and Miami, there are more
”It’s pretty bizarre,” Fisher said when asked about the end of
the 29-year AP poll run for Florida schools. ”I mean, it is. Just
got to play better. We need to play better football.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla. contributed to this
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