"I'd rather have an ugly win than a beautiful loss," Bowden said Sunday. "I think my players feel the same way I do, that moral victories don't mean nothing. We had 'em sold on the fact we could win the game. I felt that way the whole game."
Once again, however, the Seminoles (5-2) have been left to pick up the pieces following an excruciating, 28-27, defeat at top-ranked Miami (6-0) Saturday in the Orange Bowl. FSU squandered a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter and Xavier Beita missed wide left on a last-second field goal that would have handed the Seminoles a dramatic victory.
Now FSU is in recovery mode this week. Still, it's a different feeling when compared to last year's struggles.
Bowden and his players were upbeat Sunday. In fact, Bowden said the Seminoles should take something positive from the game. FSU was a prohibitive underdog, but seemingly was poised to defy the odds and reestablish itself as a national title contender.
The Seminoles' offensive line dominated UM's talent-laden and deep defensive front. FSU's defense - save for some customary pass-defense breakdowns - played with resolve. And, of course, Greg Jones gained a career-high 189 yards on 31 carries, while backup running back Nick Maddox ran for another 74 yards.
Players pointed to an emotional team meeting Friday as an important step in the team's growing confidence.
"Something happened before the game that brought us together," Maddox said of the meeting. "We decided we wanted to be a team and we wanted to get back together as a group. I think you saw guys celebrating together instead of individually for the first time in a long time (Saturday). I had so much fun.
"I hope it continues. It makes the game a lot more fun. You actually feel like you're going out there and playing for somebody else besides your coaches and yourself. You playing for that man next to you and he's going to give his all like you're giving his all. We knew (Saturday) we had the better team. They knew we had a better team. It's hard to come out of there with a loss."
Off today, FSU returns to practice Tuesday as it looks towards its final open weekend. Depending on how Notre Dame fares Saturday at Air Force, the Seminoles could face a top-5 team Oct. 26 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Seminoles also have the Atlantic Coast Conference championship at stake, not to mention the automatic Bowl Championship Series berth that accompanies it. FSU closes with three of four league games on the road, including at undefeated N.C. State (7-0) on Nov. 23.
"That's the advantage of being in a conference -- it gives you an escape," Bowden said.
"If your record won't hold you up, if you can win your conference championship, it will hold you in there. Not for the national championship -- I think that's out -- but we still would like our goal now to be ranked as high as we could be at the end of the season and get the best bowl bid we could get. That would be our goal right. To do that, you have to win your conference."
Senior defensive end Alonzo Jackson agreed, saying, "It's about winning the ACC and praying something good happens."
Something nearly good - no, make that great - happened in Miami.
"I had a dream (Saturday night) that we won, that X made that kick and I woke up and the first thing I remember is, 'We won.' And then when I got out of the bed, I was like, no we didn't," quarterback Chris Rix said.
"It was weird and I'm sure some of the guys feel the same way. But you feel like you won because we fought and played our hearts out. Yet, you watch SportsCenter and it says you lost. It's tough. It's a tough day for everyone in the program knowing we could have and should have won that game."
An important piece to the puzzle will be to make sure that Beitia recovers from his last-second miss. Failed kicks greatly affected the three former FSU kickers who suffered game-deciding misses against Miami. Gerry Thomas (1991) and Matt Munyon (2000) never kicked another field goal for the Seminoles. Dan Mowrey (1992) was never the same kicker. In fact, Beitia had made 24 of 27 field-goal attempts in his career, including two 40-plus yarders earlier Saturday against Miami, before the dramatic miss.
"I've seen him grieve in practice over missing an extra point," Bowden said. "That's the kind of kid he is. He's a perfectionist and very confident in his abilities. I think he's confident enough, smart enough and tough enough to get over this. I think he'll shake it off. He has so much more potential than the others (who missed Miami kicks.)."
Players rushed to Beitia's defense Sunday.
"I would have popped it (victory) away before the game," cornerback Stanford Samuels said.
"That's how much confidence we have in him. We know he's a great kicker I told him I loved him. He's part of this family, no one man lost the game. In fact, that game encouraged us. We saw what the man next to us can do when he fought the whole time and when he believed in the people that were around him. And we see what it takes to finish this year out undefeated - being together and playing together."
Playing No. 1 Miami to the final second was not what pundits or most FSU fans expected. The Seminoles proved with their running game, offensive line and defensive line that Miami didn't have the huge superiority that was perceived.
Bowden also knows the Seminoles were fortunate to get in position for Beitia to attempt a kick. Rix made two pass completions that Bowden called "phenomenal" to convert first downs and move the ball closer. The Seminoles might have caught a break that allowed one second to remain after Rix hurried spiked the ball following a Jones run.
It didn't matter. The 'Canes escaped with the victory, while the Semimoles now must once again rebound.
FSU says count on it.
"It's really amazing the last couple of weeks how everyone has come together," Rix said. "The unity and the camaraderie everyone has, blocking out what people outside of the program have said about the team and individuals. We were very united (Saturday) and everyone was playing for one another, trying to hold each other up. That's the only way we were going to win that game."
Added Anquan Boldin: : We should have won, we beat them convincingly up and down the field on both sides of the ball." Said Jones: ""Right now, even though it was an "L," we still feel confident. Even though the score didn't (say it), but everyone feels like we won that game. We just need to keep it on track and get ready for Notre Dame. Win the ACC. Let's just keep this thing rolling."