Whit Watson Blog: State of the State

A tip of the cap to Tom Block, our Sun Sports FSU reporter and the hardest-working man in Tallahassee, for snagging UVA's Wali Lundy and Marques Hagans for on-field interviews after the loss on Saturday. Tommy was the only Seminole to lay a hand on Hagans all night.

Virginia's upset of Florida State came on the tenth anniversary of FSU's first-ever loss in the ACC, a game played at Virginia, at night. The starting quarterback for UVA that night in 1995 was Mike Groh, whose daddy Al is now the Cavaliers' head coach. Warrick Dunn, the electrifying FSU running back who came up inches short of winning that 1995 game for the Seminoles, wore jersey number 28, now sported by running back Lorenzo Booker, who accounted for FSU's only rushing touchdown on Saturday. And the 2005 game was played under a full moon.

With Halloween still two weeks away, it was downright spooky for the Seminoles in Charlottesville.

Somewhat lost in the loss was this tidbit: Drew Weatherford passed for 377 yards against UVA, setting a new career high for the redshirt freshman. Were it not for 123 yards of penalties against the 'Noles, we'd be talking about Weatherford as the next great FSU quarterback right now.

Fear not, Seminole fans. Your path to the ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville is still clear. You've already beaten Boston College and Wake Forest in the Atlantic Division, and you've got Maryland, NC State, and Clemson coming up - while BC has to go to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in two weeks. Your fate is in your hands.

On that note, Virginia Tech is now the bellwether in both ACC divisions. While the Boston College game might determine the Atlantic side, the Hokies' own Coastal Division will likely come down to the winner of the November 5 meeting with Miami. While fans in Florida may think that an FSU-Miami matchup in the ACC's first-ever title game is a given, imagine the statement that the two new kids on the block could make if it's Boston College against Virginia Tech in December.

Meanwhile, in Gator Nation - when Urban Meyer started to choke up during his live postgame press conference on Sun Sports, I asked our analyst, Brady Ackerman, for an explanation.

"He looks like he's melting down," Brady said. After a pause for reflection, he added, "he's emotionally invested in this team."

Having interviewed Meyer on several occasions, I knew he was a passionate coach, but I was stunned to see him struggle to compose himself during the presser. One sure sign that I've been doing this too long - I immediately began to wonder how the message boards would respond to the sight of Urban Meyer pulling a semi-Vermeil. The answer: "Urban Crier." Save your e-mails, I didn't come up with that one.

One newspaper columnist in Orlando termed Meyer's comments about the passion of his players as an "Oprah moment," adding that "people could care less about team bonding." Some people, yes. Maybe even most people. But Meyer actually DOES care about such dated concepts as football players trusting each other, and he's the head coach, so it will continue to matter, whether we in the media like it or not.

Meyer allowed that he was choked up in part because he finally saw signs that his players were buying into his concepts of team, family, and trust. I don't know what those signs are, and I certainly don't know which players are finally "getting it" in Meyer's eyes, but we all know this: it's not translating into offense, and it's not translating into wins in big games.

Facts are facts. Florida didn't throw a single touchdown pass in three games this season against Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU. For the first time since 1991, the Gators will face three ranked opponents in one calendar month, with the Tide, the Tigers, and the Georgia Bulldogs all on the docket in October. They're now zero for two, with a week off before the Cocktail Party.

Many in the media - especially those who don't cover Florida on a regular basis - look at Meyer's passionate devotion to the team concept, with his Champions' Dinners and player merit system, as hopelessly hokey, but I like hokey. At least he believes in it. There's something to be said for a coach who capitalizes on the emotion of college-aged athletes, and there's nothing wrong with a system that places a premium on player responsibility.

But as I also wrote in this space, none of those concepts guarantees Florida an SEC title or national championship. At this point in time, the "team bonding" is struggling to put up numbers.

Here's my tortured analogy: when longtime South Florida resident Raymond Floyd was at the height of his powers as a professional golfer, winning at Doral three times, capturing each of the three American major championships, and making his nine Ryder Cup appearances, he had what his wife Maria called "The Look." When the match was on the line, those steely eyes would narrow, his finger-pistol would start firing at birdies, and the rest of the field was pretty much playing for second. Call it a game face, or "the zone," or what have you - Mrs. Floyd called it "The Look."

Speaking of The Look, Maria Floyd once said: "I've seen him win without it - but I've never seen him lose with it."

College football teams can have trust, team bonding, "The Look," and still lose. They can get beat by better teams, as Florida did on Saturday. But without those seemingly antiquated concepts, no team wins. The romantic in me hopes that Gator Nation won't abandon the Meyer way as quickly as some in the media have done.

Oh, yeah - and Miami hammered Temple. Can we all agree that the Owls should cut their losses and drop to I-AA? Wouldn't they be an excellent fit with UMass, Hofstra, James Madison, and the rest of the Atlantic 10? It works for them in basketball. I'm not sure the MAC is the answer, either.

Speaking of the MAC - the University of Central Florida, a MAC refugee, ran into a buzzsaw in its new Conference USA schedule, getting shellacked by Southern Miss 52-31. On the same night, South Florida suffered a bad loss - a REALLY bad loss - to Dave Wannstedt and Pittsburgh. The common link: both UCF and USF were wearing white tops. There, I've found the solution. Tell George O'Leary and Jim Leavitt to burn those jerseys.

Not the best weekend for Florida's Division I programs. Six of the seven D-I schools in the state - Florida, FSU, UCF, USF, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International - lost on Saturday, with Miami being the sole bright spot. However, Bethune-Cookman routed Savannah State, and the NAIA Webber International University Warriors ran their winning streak to five games by beating Division II North Greenville University - on the road, no less.

In football, hope is where you find it.

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