Babb Bits: Around The Nation

It wasn't long ago when Florida State could be counted on to be a powerhouse 10-win team year in and year out. The Seminoles have fallen from that level of excellence, however. In this Babb Bits, Charles Babb discusses what might be wrong with the Seminoles and also looks into Notre Dame and the polls as well as other subjects.

Bobby Bowden, Jeff Bowden, and Florida State

Bobby Bowden has long been immune to criticism.  The media, who nearly fawns upon him thanks to his folksy stories, have mostly turned a blind eye to misbehavior by his players and poor coaching decisions, but times, they are a changin'. 

Right now the Seminoles look like a sinking ship.  Their only wins over quality teams in the last season are over Virginia Tech (who barely escaped Louisville in their bowl), Boston College (who barely escaped Boise State in their bowl) and a Miami squad (twice – in games not fit to watch) that is swirling around the toilet.  While not even getting into the thorny question of the ACC's overall quality, it is clear Florida State has a host of very real problems.

For starters, their defense is no longer a threat.  It has allowed double digits in scoring to every team this season with the exception of Rice and Miami.  Over the past 18 months the once mighty Seminole defense has yielded over 20 points per game.  No program is going to consistently win football games with those kinds of numbers.

If you want an exercise in just where they are on the defensive side of the football then come up with the name of a superstar (other than Buster Davis this year) who has played in Tallahassee since 2001.  Struggling?  This didn't used to be the case.  The Seminoles churned out NFL prospects like an assembly line in the 1990's when they had their golden era under Bowden.

Yet the problems don't end on the defensive side of the football, and it can be argued defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has done much to improve his unit in the past two years.  With all three units (offense, defense, and special teams) impacted by the performance of the others – is this a situation where the defense is being dragged down by poor play and poor coaching elsewhere?

The answer, not surprisingly, is yes.

Another exercise in memory; name a great, or even just better than average quarterback who has played for the ‘Noles in the last half a decade.  Struggling again?  Chris Weinke is the only name which comes to mind, but he finished his eligibility in 2000.  At one time it seemed like Florida State could put Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum behind center and defeat opponents 36-2 but no more.

What has changed?

First, contrary to what he might admit, Bowden has been slowing a bit more each year.  Age cannot be defied.  The Bowden of today is not the Bowden of 1995 or even 2000.  This amounts to more work on fewer shoulders since he cannot fully carry the load.  Second, he has fallen into the trap of trying to win every year instead of taking lumps and building for the future.  At one time the Seminoles rarely played a quarterback who did not redshirt and sit the pine while learning the system.  Anything less than a redshirt sophomore playing was considered unusual.  Now, quarterbacks are thrown into the fire and devoured by opponents, fans, and the media.  Third is a talent vacuum among his assistants.  The slide started when Bowden lost his two best coordinators, Mark Richt and Chuck Amato.  Bowden was either unable or unwilling to replace them with equal or better talent and made the cruel mistake of all in hiring his son Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator in 2001. 

With Jeff Bowden holding the reins of the offense, the Seminoles have been poor at best and inept at worst.  Their offensive production, play calling, and player development have dropped like a stone off the high dive.  Since the 2001 season, only two Seminoles have been named to the All American team – Alex Barron in 2004 and Bret Williams in 2002.  Both of these players were offensive linemen.  In 1999 and 2000 alone (before Richt's departure), no less than three Seminoles were named to the first team offense – Marvin Minnis and Peter Warrick at wide receiver, and Jason Whitaker at offensive line.  Toss in Sebastian Janikowski at place kicker and arguably four offensive players were named in two years.

From 1994 to 2000, when Richt was calling the shots, the Seminoles failed to score at least 20 points only seven times in 86 games and never finished with more than 2 losses.  They scored under 30 only 25 times (16-9 in those contests) and averaged 37.5 points a game.  Their overall record was 67-8-1.

Starting in 2001 with the youngest Bowden as coordinator, the Seminoles have failed to score at least 20 points in 20 of their last 70 games and have twice finished with 5 losses.  Not once have they managed fewer than 3 losses on the season and only once have they even cracked the 10 win mark (2003 when Richt coached players still started on the offense).  The Seminoles have failed to score at least 30 a whopping 37 times and are just 14-23 in those games.  Their offensive production has dropped to 30.4 points per game with an overall record of 48-23.

The bottom line is simple.  Jeff Bowden, if he were any other man, would likely be fired. What was once NFL draft central has been relegated to a frontier outpost while great offensive performances are no longer routine but rare.  Unless he is not truly pulling the strings, he needs to go.  He should either resign and save his father the angst or Bobby Bowden should be asked by the university to put him on notice. 

Five years to produce with increasingly poor numbers is unacceptable.  The media isn't out to get Jeff Bowden; the numbers simply don't lie.

Games I would pay to see again at the end of the season

USC at Arkansas (50-14)

Notre Dame vs Penn State (41-17)

Ohio State at Texas (24-7)

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (33-15)

Rutgers vs. Illinois (33-0)

Michigan vs. Vanderbilt (27-7)

Every team on the losing end was breaking in or transitioning to a new, underclassman quarterback.  Meanwhile the victors (whose combined records right now are 41-3) were starting an upperclassman – predominantly seniors.  With opportunistic defensive plays and turnovers, these turned into contests which weren't close.  However, since they played the losing team and quarterbacks have progressed.  Mitch Mustain, Colt McCoy, and ‘Juice' Williams in particular are players to watch.  Expect them to make a good bit of noise between now and 2009.  

Notre Dame and the Polls

Of all the teams in college football history, Notre Dame is the last one who should ever complain about polls and rankings.  Last season, though it was patently obvious to anyone with half a brain they were not that great, the Irish were placed in a BCS Bowl.  Then, after watching Ohio State pound them back to the Stone Age with over 600 yards of offense, the pollsters and media went ga-ga over the supposed genius Charlie Weis in the off season.  Some even ranked them No. 1 in the nation, predicting their tilt against USC would determine which team would play for the title.

Huh?  What am I missing?

Two items:

The next time Notre Dame wins their bowl game, it will be their first since January 1, 1994 when they escaped 24-21 in the Cotton Bowl.

The next time Notre Dame beats a good team, it will be the first time under Weis and the first since the Lou Holtz era.

Just how ridiculous is it?

Take a gander at their schedule the last season and a half. 

Wins over:

5-6 Pittsburgh

7-5 Michigan

2-9 Washington 

5-6 Purdue

6-6 BYU

5-6 Tennessee

8-4 Navy

1-10 Syracuse

5-6 Stanford

5-2 Georgia Tech

5-3 Penn State

4-4 Michigan State

5-3 Purdue

0-8 Stanford

4-3 UCLA

Combined, the win/loss records of the teams they defeated have been 67-80.  They lack even a single victory over a team with more than eight wins, and their lone win over one with at least that many was Navy.  Aside from the Midshipmen, the Irish have notched just one win over a program with more than six wins, and that was the worst Michigan team in a generation.  In fact, those two victories and their win against BYU represent the only teams that have finished at .500 or better.

Losses to:

5-6 Michigan State

11-1 USC

10-2 Ohio State

8-0 Michigan

In contrast, every time they have had an opportunity to make a statement that they are indeed a good football team, they have stumbled and fallen flat on their face.  Of the three truly excellent teams they have faced in the past season and a half, they lost one close and were blown out in historic fashion (literally) in the other two.

The bottom line here is simple.  Weis, if he was really as smart as the media acts like he is, would realize the rankings take care of themselves.  Teams playing tough schedules with quality wins move up in the polls.  Teams barely escaping week after week find themselves in a holding pattern.  Teams dropping big games on a regular basis lose votes and belly flop.

What might be poetic justice is if Weis were to get what he asks for and be matched up against the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game.  After (another) shellacking of historic proportions and (another) bowl loss, he will wish he had kept his thoughts to himself.  That won't happen, but it would be wise to note that the media – whose poll and intelligence he insulted – are not likely to forget his remarks any time soon.  In fact, they will happily remind him if the Irish don't defeat USC and win their bowl.

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