Another Hurdle

Is Florida State close to rejoining the nation's elite? Seminoles coach <b>Bobby Bowden</b> think so, especially if FSU (9-4) emerges victorious over third-ranked Georgia (12-1) in Wednesday's Sugar Bowl here in New Orleans. "When we didn't deserve to win, we didn't," Bowden said Tuesday. "But if we win this one, we'll be back to where we're supposed to be." And the key to the game? Bowden points to both team's defenses.

NEW ORLEANS -- Is Florida State close to rejoining the nation's elite?

Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden thinks so, especially if FSU (9-4) emerges victorious over third-ranked Georgia (12-1) in Wednesday's Sugar Bowl.

It took 13 games, but FSU finally produced a signature victory over rival Florida 31-14 to end the regular season. The Seminoles hope that effort and momentum carry into their showdown against a Bulldogs team that won the SEC title and could finish second in the final Bowl Championship Series rankings with a win.

"The years that we went consecutively winning 10 or more games, there were about four of those years where we had to win the bowl game to get 10 wins and a top-four finish," Bowden said Tuesday.

"If we could win the game, it would get us back into that feeling and, to be honest with you, if we win this game, I feel we would be back. With just a couple of breaks, we'd be sitting 11-2 instead of 9-4, if we could have done better. But we didn't. When we didn't deserve to win, we didn't. But if we win this one, we'll be back to where we're supposed to be."

While Bowden acknowledged the Sugar Bowl's importance, he continues to bristle over the perception that his program has lost its luster due to consecutive four-defeat seasons.

FSU ended last year with a convincing victory over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. That outcome was expected to help the Seminoles erase their first four-defeat season since 1986 and provide a springboard into this year.

That appeared to be the case as FSU opened with four consecutive victories.

However, the Seminoles were rocked by a stunning 26-20 defeat at Louisville in a driving rainstorm to end September, throwing a wet blanket on the team's national championship hopes. Losses to Miami, Notre Dame and North Carolina State followed. FSU also was plagued by inconsistency, injuries and turmoil during that span, leading many to question Bowden and his coaching staff.

Still, the Seminoles didn't look that far removed from their successful past against the Gators. They beat a state rival with a patchwork offensive line, a fourth-string tailback in Leon Washington and a redeemed quarterback in Chris Rix.

"We're not the first team that's ever lost four ballgames," Bowden said.

"I look at the pro teams and the best teams in the AFC, I think, lost five games. The game means a whole lot to me to help regain some of the prestige that we've lost. I look at Alabama, at Southern Cal, at Texas, Notre Dame -- schools that used to be in the top four every year but are now in a down cycle.

"We're regrouping and we're going to make a comeback and that's keeping it in perspective."

While winning carries a powerful message and helps change perception among fans, Bowden pointed out that coaches eye games differently than an adoring but sometimes fickle public.

FSU, Bowden says, weathered the storm by whipping UF. But, yes, he realizes a win over the Bulldogs will help erase any lasting turmoil and negativity from this season and help set the tone for spring drills.

"Coaches look at it different from the public," Bowden said.

"I go back and I can tell you exactly why we lost to Miami. If we make that catch right across the middle, it gives us a first down -- when we caught the ball and (Hurricanes) knocked it out of there. If we make that catch, we are gonna win that game. If we kick that field goal and it didn't hook, they might not be in the Fiesta (Bowl), I don't know.

"Then you lose to Louisville. If we had just done that instead of that. We've just seen case after case (this season). So, anyway that's the way we look at it, whereas the public will look at it differently. The tight end is in love with the fullback's mother. But she likes the wide receiver. .... that's the way the public (is), they are going to find something screwy out there. Something out of this world.

"But coaches look at blocking and tackling. We go back and look at film and try to correct our mistakes."

Naturally, FSU must limit its mistakes against a talent-laden Georgia team, starting with quarterback Fabian Walker.

Bowden said he's not looking for Walker, who has just thrown eight passes in three games this season and will be making his first collegiate start, to win the game by himself. Receiver -- and former prep quarterback -- Anquan Boldin has shared snaps with Walker in practice and could see time behind center.

"Son, just try to keep us from getting beat," Bowden said of his advice to Walker. "We've got the white jerseys, they will have the dark. Get that ball to the white (jerseys). Make sure of all of your handoffs. I still think the game will come down to the two defenses.

"I think the most underrated thing about Georgia is their defense. They remind me of the ol' good defenses that I've seen in the past."

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