Did The ACC Cause Bobby Bowden's Demise?
A once proud football program that has fallen to the depths of mediocrity is saying good bye to its coach. No, I'm not talking about Notre Dame, but it's ironic that while people jump up and down on the Irish for being irrelevant they completely ignore the fact that the same thing has happened to the Florida State Seminoles. Granted, Notre Dame hasn't been true national championship contenders since the early '90's, a time when the 'Noles were about to embark on a stretch of incredible success. But a lot of folks are talking about the mystique that is no more in South Bend. Yet, FSU once had mystique and it too is long gone.
Florida State was once perennial championship contenders. Literally. From 1987 to 2000 the Seminoles finished in the AP top five every year under the helm of Bobby Bowden. Now the 'Noles struggle to finish in the top five of the ACC. That's a far cry from the 90's. For more than a decade the Seminoles enjoyed unprecedented success including two national titles and a gaudy 70-2 conference record in the first nine seasons as a member of the ACC. Florida State absolutely dominated the ACC from 1992 to 2000 but ironically, joining that conference may have led to the fall of Bowden and the Seminoles.
It seemed like an odd match, the ACC and Florida State. The ACC was long known as a basketball conference with little football clout while the Seminoles were known as a football power with a less than stellar basketball program. Not surprisingly the Seminoles steamrolled through 10 win season after 10 win season. Starting in the mid-'80's and throughout the 1990's Florida State, along with Miami and later Florida, had a stranglehold on the fertile state of Florida recruiting scene. There was a time when FSU had no problem luring blue chip recruits just based on the mystique of the program, much like Notre Dame. Heck, the fictitious ESU Timberwolves from the 1993 film "The Program" sure looked like FSU. That same year Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy and the Seminoles finished #1 in the country. Florida State was the class of college football.
But with Florida State in the ACC schools like Clemson and Virginia suddenly had better access to Florida recruits. By 2001 the rest of the conference started catching up to the Seminoles. When the conference added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College the next year the Seminoles completely lost their grip on the top rung. Florida State won the '05 ACC title but that would be their last under Bowden. With more heavyweights in the conference and once-tiny programs like South Florida and East Carolina taking away a slice of Florida recruiting pie the Seminoles became just another program. In the 1993 it was inconceivable that a team like Wake Forest could even compete with the Seminoles. In 2006 the Demon Deacons came to Tallahassee and flattened the 'Noles 30-0.
Sure, Bowden is 80 and everyone had to wonder how much longer he was going to last but after BCS title appearances in 1998, 1999 & 2000 it was believed that Bowden would be able to walk away on his own terms. A lifetime contract well-deserved for a man who built a gridiron superpower. But as Notre Dame already learned, mystique doesn't last and reputation will only take you so far. 6-6 just simply isn't good enough.