Bowden Talks Expectations, QBs

At every major college football program around the country, except maybe USC and Oklahoma, the scene is the same. No matter how good the 2004 season was, there are people around who want to know why it was not any better.

In today's big-money game, anything less than a National Title is often considered a failure. Donors, fans and alumni want to see their team at the top of the mountain, and no excuse for anything less is justifiable.

The scenario is no different at Florida State, where the questions surrounding the Seminoles seem more like questions for a 3-8 team not a team that finished 8-3. But the tradition that has been established at FSU demands greatness, and even its humble head coach has fallen into that trap.

"A lot of times you think that if our offense could have just moved the ball, we could have had a great year," admitted Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, who recently had a statue of himself unveiled outside of FSU's Doak Walker Stadium. "Yet, if you pick up a paper from another town and read about another team, you could just substitute our name in there and it could be about us. This is common. But I have been through it before.

"There were some good things, but the production was not what I had expected," continued the coaching legend. "I have never had anything in coaching that I didn't feel like I could fix. As I evaluate our performance, I see some things that I think we are going to have to change. I really think I can fix our problem."

Fixing the problem may be even more important to Bowden because of his love of family. Bobby's son Jeff is in charge of the FSU offense, and he has taken a great deal of heat for the lack of production from a team that has scored 20 or fewer points in five of its 11 contests.

"I think I am just like any father is with his son," said Bowden. "When I first started coaching, I had to learn how to handle criticism. This is good practice for (Jeff). This may be what he needs. A lot of it, though, falls back on me. A coach has to decide what to do. Jeff has to do a lot of things I tell him to do, whether he wants to or not.

"When you have a defense as good as ours, there are many times when I take the approach to not go out there and beat ourselves. Our defense is good enough to keep the other team down pretty low, so we just don't want to do anything stupid. We have done as good a job of not turning the ball over on our end of the field as we have done in years."

The defense, which Bowden speaks so highly of, is one of Florida State's best ever. The Seminoles have allowed opponents just 13.7 points per game, and they were a big reason why Florida State was still able to rack up eight wins despite its floundering offense.

"We did lose some players, but we had a pretty good defense coming back, and we had some depth," said Bowden of his 2004 unit. "Our depth stepped up and played well. We had some boys step up and play well that had been injured. Travis Johnson has been injured ever since he has been here. This is the first time he had an injury-free year, and that was very important."

But Florida State still found a way to lose three games without giving up any more than 20 points. The criticism that has not landed on the coaching staff's plate has fell in to quarterback Chris Rix's serving dish. The senior signal caller was expected to lead the Seminoles to the promise land in his FSU career, but he has never quite lived up to the potential.

"I haven't had a lot of players who have had as much feast or famine," admitted Rix's head coach. "Thank goodness he has had more feast than famine. But he has probably been up and down more than any starter that I can recall. A lot of that comes from following a guy like Chris Weinke, who took you to three straight National Championship games. That is a tough act to follow. If Chris Rix had been my quarterback the first year I came to Florida State back in 1976, after an 0-11 season, a 1-10 season and a 3-8 season, these people would have been jumping up and down screaming about how good he has done in his first four years. But he came in following 14 years of success and a Heisman Trophy quarterback. He probably played a lot better than everybody wants to believe.

"You can go back to some of the games he has played, and there have been some brilliant games," he continued. "I keep thinking about when Maryland came in here undefeated and a top 10 team in his freshman year. I think he threw four or five touchdowns that day. Nobody else had been able to beat them, and we beat them. So he has had some great games. I was just hoping it would be that way this year."

It was not to be, however, as injuries and poor performance put Rix on the sidelines as much as he was on the field. Backup quarterback Wyatt Sexton was forced into action and led the Seminoles to big wins over Clemson and Virginia, but a loss to Maryland sent the sophomore back to the bench.

"I think under the circumstances he did well," said Bowden of his young quarterback. "The experience that he got this year will be very valuable. At least now he has five or six games that he has started and even more than that he has played in. That should give him a starting place to build on. At least he has been there."

But for now there is no quarterback controversy. Rix will start the game, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will finish it.

"(Sexton may play), but there won't be a plan," said Bowden last Tuesday. "We will go with Chris Rix, and if he is struggling bad, we might put the other guy in. But it is not like we are going to play one a quarter and the other one a quarter. We just won't do that."

Bowden has been very careful not to blame anyone but himself for his team's inability to live up to National Championship expectations, but he does admit that the situation could have been different with another quarterback.

"With a guy like Weinke or Charlie Ward, I would think this team could have competed for a National Championship," admitted Bowden. "This team had the personnel to go all the way. I hope that doesn't sound like I am blaming our losses on our quarterback. If we kicked all of our field goals, we would have won every game, too. That is just one area of it."

The coach knows he cannot bring either one of those quarterbacks back, and the Gator Bowl will belong entirely to Rix. Bowden hopes that he can perform up to his capabilities and leave on a high.

"Most people remember you by what you have done lately," Bowden explained. "I think people will remember much more what you did in your last game than what you did your first game. Other than the coaches, nobody can probably even tell you what (Rix) did his first game, but his last game will be remembered."

This is the first of two parts of an article that appeared in the Gator Bowl Preview Edition of the Blue & Gold News. This is just one example of the exclusive, in-depth coverage you'll find only in our print publication. Subscribe to the print edition of the Blue & Gold News today, and see what you've been missing!

Part Two of this interview, which features a number of Bowden memories, plus his explanation for why he left WVU, will come later this week.

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