Bowden, 'Noles find relief in ACC title game

On the verge of being relegated to a minor bowl, Bobby Bowden and FSU rediscovered some of that Seminole magic and clinched a place in the BCS.

Updated: December 26, 2005, 7:34 AM ET
By Joe Wojciechowski | Special to ESPN.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Wait until Congress hears about this. Just as the folks on Capitol Hill decided to hold hearings to look into the BCS, there was Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford biting an orange, through the peel and all, and sucking up the juice. And there was safety Kenny Ingram walking around with a handful of oranges and just passing them around. And there was Bobby Bowden on stage accepting an invitation to the FedEx Orange Bowl after winning the inaugural ACC championship game.

FSU was supposed to be heading to Boise. Or some other non-January bowl for the first time since 1990. Instead, after tomahawk-chopping No. 5 Virginia Tech 27-22 on Saturday night, the 'Noles are making their eighth postseason trip to the Orange Bowl.

Bobby Bowden
AP Photo/Phil CoaleFlorida State coach Bobby Bowden says the Gold Medal is 'the finest honor I'll ever get.'
"I was talking to somebody [Saturday] and said 'our team is in a tailspin,' " Bowden said. "We haven't been in one of these in a long time. I said we will pull out of it, but I don't know when. I didn't expect this game."

No one did. The Seminoles were unranked for the first time since November 2001. This was supposed to be the Hokies' time. Led by uber-QB Marcus Vick and the nation's best defense, this game was supposed to be a mere formality for Virginia Tech. It would mark the changing of the guard and make maroon, not scarlet, the conference color of choice.

The Seminoles? They were coming into the game with a three-game losing streak, their first since 1983. They scored a grand total of 36 points in those losses and had FSU faithful questioning Bowden. Even the smart guys in Vegas -- who have labeled the 'Noles a double-digit underdog just 10 times in Bowden's 40 years -- tagged the 'Noles as 14-point dogs, the third highest spread against FSU.

"We didn't pay attention to all the negativity," Weatherford said. "This shuts everyone up. It shows how much character the coaching staff and the players have. We never let any of that other stuff bother us."

Instead, FSU just went old-school. The defense swarmed and slowed the unstoppable Vick. It made plays on special teams, like Willie Reid's 83-yard punt return. It played consistent offense, but added a few big plays in the mix. It played, well, like Florida State.

"This shows Florida State is back," said FSU tackle Mario Henderson. "It's back like when Deion Sanders was here, like when we won two national titles and played in four straight. This proves we're no pushover."

But in the strangest way, the struggles may have been one of the best things to happen to the Seminoles. On their way to becoming Florida State once again, they discovered what they needed to do to get there.

"Maybe we thought the Florida State name would get us a win," said linebacker A.J. Nicholson of the Seminoles' losing streak. "Now I feel like we're on track. Back to the glory days. There's always work to be done, but things are falling into place."

Things like getting healthy. Like executing. Like remembering this is a team that was all but using pacifiers instead of mouthpieces for much of the season. Henderson was quick to point out that suddenly the same plays that looked so bad during the three-game losing streak looked so good against Virginia Tech. And linebacker A.J. Nicholson noted there are no freshmen anymore. After going through a whole season, youth is no longer an excuse.

"People just don't know what's going on. They think if we don't score, score, score, that someone needs to be fired. There's so much more to it than that," Henderson said. "It's real simple, we execute, we score. If we stay together and focus as a team, we can do great things."

Like win the ACC. Again. Like go to a BCS bowl. Again. And the Seminoles will clean out Renegade's stable with a toothbrush before apologizing for making the BCS with four losses.

Let Congress figure out the rest of the BCS. Florida State is just fine with the way things are right now.

"We're back to being Florida State," said Reid. "We got the hats. We got the T-shirts. We're going to the BCS. We're back where we need to be. Back where we deserve to be."

Joe Wojciechowski has covered college football for national publications since 1998.

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