Summer Challenge

FSU coach Bobby Bowden continues to enjoy his annual family vacation in Panama City -- playing golf and hiding from his 21 grandchildren. But that didn't stop Bowden and Iowa State coach Dan McCarney from talking about the teams' opener in two months. "This is a team that can beat Florida State," Bowden said of ISU. "And unless Florida State plays its very best, we would definitely get beat. I just thinks it's a very even matchup. If we have an advantage, I don't know what it is."

Bobby Bowden chuckled and admitted he's trying to squeeze in a final few weeks of vacation before turning his attention to football. He's currently enjoying his annual family hiatus in Panama City, playing golf and hiding from his 21 grandchildren. The biggest news back home has been the removal of a majestic oak tree from his front yard.

"It was about 100 years old and had those limbs hanging down to the ground," Bowden said. "Since I've been gone they've cut the tree down because it died. From what I hear, everybody says, 'Boy, you are not going to believe the house.' We had the house hidden now for 27 years. Now people are going to see it. They are going to see what a poor coach I am."

Bowden's humor and football wisdom were in midseason form during Wednesday evening's teleconference call with the national media. It still might be just June, but Bowden and Iowa State coach Dan McCarney are excited about their teams' opener in the Eddie Robinson Classic Aug. 24 in Kansas City.

The two teams last met in 1975, with the Cyclones upending the Seminoles, coached by Darrell Mudra, in Tallahassee 10-6. Naturally, this is a different era for both programs, and ISU views its date with the Seminoles as a golden opportunity to take its program to another level. McCarney is credited with transforming a dormant collegiate football program to one that actually permeates a winning spirit.

FSU, meanwhile, is looking to regain its status among the nation's elite following last season's 8-4 struggles. Additionally, Bowden continues to chase Joe Paterno in his quest to become the all-time winningest coach in Division I-A history. Bowden is currently tied for second with Paul "Bear" Bryant at 323 victories, four behind Paterno.

"Normally, I don't even start thinking football until about July," Bowden said. "I purposely stay away from it until then. But I guess you all (media) are starting my thinking a week or 10 days ahead of time."

Bowden admits the extra thought will be needed, especially since the Cyclones, 7-5 last season, have won 16 of their last 24 games and have beaten rival Iowa four consecutive times.

State also features quarterback Senecca Wallace, a 5-10, 193-pound senior who was the Big 12 Conference's offensive newcomer of the year last season after finishing second in the league in total offense (219 yards per game). His completion percentage of 62.1 percent led the league. Overall, Wallace threw for 2,044 yards (167-for-269) with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 475 yards with seven touchdowns.

"They play in a great conference and they hold their own in a great conference," Bowden said.

"We've been doing the same thing in ours They got their quarterback back. We got our quarterback back. I imagine we are both pretty close as far as experience is concern. Depth-wise, we may have a little advantage depth wise, I don't know. It looks like a real good matchup ball game. It doesn't look like Florida State can go out there and dominate this football team. This is a team that can beat Florida State. And unless Florida State plays its very best, we would definitely get beat. I just thinks it's a very even matchup. If we have an advantage, I don't know what it is."

Bowden said he is especially impressed with Walker, who reminds him of former Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. Wallace is originally from Sacramento and played two years ago at Sac City Junior College, where he passed for 3,675 yards with 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 550 yards on 49 tries and nine touchdowns. His two junior college teams finished 9-2. Wallace's deadly passing accuracy led to just 14 ISU turnovers last season -- the fewest by a Cyclone team since 1958 and the lowest figure since World War II.

"When I get to talking about Senecca, I talk about Vick, the great quarterback at Virginia Tech. I say hey, we are fixing to face another one," Bowden said.

"I've never had a one-man show against any of my football teams like the one we got against him in the Sugar Bowl a couple of years ago. That's how much I think of Senecca. What do I like? No. 1, he don't like for you to touch him. He's quick as a cat and it doesn't disturb his throwing. I don't care if he's moving left or right, he can still put the ball on the button. A guy like him, what concerns you the most, I mean, you say he's a great passer and we will do this, will do that but the dadgum guy can run the football but you can barely touch him. That's what scares me the most."

Bowden, however, can counter with quarterback Chris Rix, who should feel more comfortable in the Seminoles' offense after starting last season as a freshman. Rix must continue to hold off challengers Adrian McPherson and Fabian Walker in preseason drills.

Defensively, the Cyclones led the Big 12 in turnover margin last season, forcing 26 opponent mistakes. They also registered 18 interceptions, the program's best mark since 1976. ISU also has been able to keep opponents off the scoreboard with better consistency. IN 1997, a 1-10 Cyclone team allowed an average of 44.8 points per game. That number dropped to 21 points a game last season, its best effort since 1982.

"There's not many things more important to a quarterback than experience," Bowden said. "That's the one thing you can't teach. You can't teach experience. You can't coach experience. It has to happen. We went into last season with Chris Rix, who had never started a college football game in his life, knowing he had ability. But how will he play? How will he handle the crowd? How will he handle the opposition? So, now we know. That means a lot."

Bowden also was glad to hear the Seminoles have been serious about their offseason workouts.

"One of those things you expect the boys to do -- go out and work out," Bowden said. "I hope they are working out. The only indication I have is they are is I saw an interview with some of our players who are working out at the school made me feel good."

McCarney, meanwhile, feels good about the chance to coach against Bowden, who still carries quite an impression even when on vacation. McCarney said he first met Bowden when he visited the Seminoles' spring practice seven years ago as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.

"(It was a) great experience," McCarney said.

"They bent over backwards to make us feel welcomed. I remember getting the chance to meet with coach Bowden a couple of times and he treated me like he had known me for a long time even though that was the first time I had met him. I think that's the reputation he has with all of us in college football and the coaches who are out there. He has done a magnificent job through the years of improving college football, the image, the talent, the success, bring great notoriety and publicity to college football around the country. And he does it the way it's supposed to be done."

McCarney also knows what to expect from Bowden's team.

"Well, they are just a typical Bobby Bowden football team," McCarney said. "They are well coached. They have great fundamentals. They are relentless from an effort standpoint. Florida State is synonymous with great defense. That has been that way for many, many years. The team speed that you see on defense is about as good as you will see year in and year out in college football. And nothing is changed.

"I know coach Bowden had a little younger football team last year. But I saw great progress and improvement. I saw them dominate a darn good Virginia Tech team in the bowl game. ... Every year you can just about count on the Seminoles being in the top five in college football."


Nole Digest Top Stories