Originally created 08/12/02

Rosenblatt: Let's not forget Florida State



Bobby Bowden hates losing so much that an 8-4 season is unacceptable. And make no mistake - last year was utter misery for the 72-year-old coach.

"When you get to my age you can't stand the losses," Bowden said in preparation for his 27th season at Florida State.

Four losses in 2001 were too many in Tallahassee, where playing for national championships is considered an annual rite. Before last season, the Seminoles set standards for success that might never be matched: 10 or more wins and a Top 5 final ranking for 14 straight years. Add national titles in 1993 and 1999, and losses in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 championship games, and you get the picture.

That all came to an abrupt halt last year. The Seminoles dropped out of the hunt early after a stunning 41-9 loss at North Carolina, followed by a 49-27 defeat at Miami.

Too much, too soon for a man so used to winning. If the upcoming season were to be a repeat of last season, Bowden's car could soon carry one of those license plates that reads, "No worries, no stress, no boss, no address: Retired."

Well, put the gold watch back in storage.

Florida State will rebound mightily from its worst season in more than a decade, and this space is picking the Seminoles to grab the big bag of Tostitos and win the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.

Even North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato, whose team beat Florida State in Tallahassee last year, recognizes the Seminoles' potential.

"By no means is their dynasty over," said Amato, who's a former Florida State assistant. "They are still the one we're all chasing."

He won't get any argument from Florida State.

"In the end picture, anything less than a national championship here is a failure," said quarterback Chris Rix, now a seasoned sophomore after passing for 2,734 yards and 24 touchdowns. "The amount of talent we have is just unbelievable. It's like we haven't lost anybody."

Bowden is encouraged by the return of 17 starters, including Michael Boulware, Darnell Dockett and Alonzo Jackson on defense and 310-pound tackle Brett Williams on offense. Injured players from last season are healthy, including wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Robert Morgan.

Bowden said his players are eager to prove that 2001 was an aberration.

"Our kids came in January and February and they were anxious to go," Bowden said. "They nearly challenged us and said, 'Let's go.' That made me feel pretty good going into this year."

And then there's the Bobby factor. He just won't stand for losing.

Not even one of the most ambitious schedules in the country - a 13-game campaign that includes non-ACC games against Iowa State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida - will stand in the Seminoles' way.

"That's a schedule people dream of," Rix said. "That's what true competitors and people who want to be the best want. If you want to be the best, you play the best."

The voters in The Associated Press media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll both chose Miami as the No. 1 team. But this space won't be swayed by the poll people. Right state, wrong team.

Miami's Ken Dorsey and Florida's Rex Grossman may grab the Heisman Trophy headlines early on, but look for Rix to join the mix. The 6-foot-4, 214-pounder enjoyed success and learned from his mistakes - five fumbles and 13 interceptions.

At one point last season, Florida State was 6-4 before closing with wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Those wins helped Rix's confidence.

"Last year was the year to get us, and some teams did," Rix said. "But it's our job to keep working hard and carry through what we did at the end of last season."

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Winning had come easy at Florida State until last season. Should they falter again, here's the rest of the Top 10:

2. Oklahoma: Best defense in country; no Nebraska or Kansas State on schedule.

3. Miami: Dorsey for Heisman, but too many holes to fill for a repeat.

4. Texas: 'Horns close again under QB Chris Simms, but can't win big one.

5. Tennessee: Vols should win SEC, but are upset-prone.

6. Oregon: Even without QB Joey Harrington, Ducks are dangerous.

7. Florida: Top 10 finish under new coach Ron Zook is good enough.

8. Colorado: Buffs can surprise Oklahoma on Nov. 2.

9. Ohio State: Have to pick some team from the Big Ten.

10. Louisville: A home date against Florida State will tell the tale.

Five to watch: Boston College, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington.

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Richard Rosenblatt is the national football writer for The Associated Press. He can be reached at RRosenblatt(at)ap.org