Moment of Truth

The Gator Bowl between Florida State and West Virginia pits two teams who ended their regular seasons in disappointing fashion. The Mountaineers dropped their last two games, to Boston College and Pittsburgh, while the Seminoles were upset by Florida, 20-13, in their final game - FSU 's first home defeat to Florida since 1986. Seminole fans, of course, are also anxious to see if any changes are made to the coaching staff following the bowl game.

The table is set.

Florida State ends its 2004 season against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.

The game also represents a beginning for the Seminoles as well.

The outcome will help set the offseason tone for a program that many believe is at a crossroad under legandary coach Bobby Bowden.

"We've had good practices,'' Bowden said of his team's bowl preparation.

"Everything has been on schedule. The boys have worked hard and now we'll just play the game and see how it goes. It ought to be a heck of a ballgame."

Bowden faces his former team for only the second time. In the only previous meeting between the teams, Bowden beat the Mountaineers, 30-17, in the 1982 Gator Bowl.

West Virginia is making its second straight appearance in the Gator Bowl and fifth overall, but the Mountaineers lost their four previous visits, including an embarrassing 41-7 defeat to Maryland last year.

West Virginia also lost in the Gator Bowl to Clemson in 1989 (27-7) and to North Carolina in 1997 (20-13).

The Mountaineers also are looking to give coach Rich Rodriguez his first bowl victory. While West Virginia has dropped 10 of its last 11 bowl games, Rodriguez is 0-2 in the postseason, also losing to Virginia in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl.

FSU is making its 21st straight bowl appearance but also has dropped its last two, falling to Georgia in the 2003 Sugar Bowl and to Miami in last year's Orange Bowl.

Embattled quarterback Chris Rix, often a target of criticism throughout his career at FSU, will start against the Mountaineers.

West Virginia is led by Big East Player of the Year Rasheed Marshall, who is threat through the air and on the ground. Marshall completed 133-of-219 passes for 1,755 yards and 18 touchdowns and also rushed for 790 yards and four TDs.

For many FSU fans, however, their main concern centers around the Seminoles' coaching staff.

Bowden has made it clear he was not happy with his offensive production this year. However, he also has made it clear he can fix the Seminoles problems as well.

And how Bowden will deal with that problem has become the center of speculation.

All signs point to a shake-up that likely will cost one offensive coach his job. Even this will be a departure for Bowden, who said he has fired only three coaches in his 29 seasons at FSU.

In fact, six assistant coaches have been on the FSU staff for 10 or more years, including two with 20 or more years (Billy Sexton at 28 and Mickey Andrews at 21).

Jimmy Heggins (19th season), Jeff Bowden (11th), Odell Haggins (11th) and John Lilly (10th) also have been at FSU at least for a decade.

"I never had anything in coaching that I felt I couldn't fix,'' Bowden said earlier this week.

"There are some things you can't fix during the season. When I have had time to evaluate, like I have for three or four weeks, I see things where I feel I have to make some changes.

"Now, you don't know whether I'm talking plays or people. But I can fix our problems.''

On the national landscape, FSU is on the outside looking in after losing to Miami, Maryland and Florida, ending a chance of posting consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1999-2000 -- which marked the end of the program's unprecedented 10-win season streak at 14.

Nole Digest Top Stories