Jan. 4, 2006
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) - Bobby Bowden walked slowly through the front doors of Florida State's hotel Wednesday morning, ready to board the chartered tour bus that would carry him into the offseason.
He looked tired, no surprise considering he'd slept only a few hours. And he sounded disappointed, a given after his Seminoles lost 26-23 in triple overtime to Penn State the previous night - a defeat capping an 8-5 season, Florida State's worst record in a quarter-century.
Still, the 76-year-old Bowden is optimistic about the Seminoles' future, although his team will finish the year outside the AP Top 10 for the fifth straight year - and possibly unranked for the first time since 1986. Florida State came into the Orange Bowl ranked No. 22, 19 spots below Penn State.
"Tonight, the No. 1 team in the nation is playing the No. 2 team in the nation," Bowden said Wednesday, referring to the Southern California-Texas matchup in the Rose Bowl. "The next best team is Penn State. So we ain't playing a dad-gum nobody. We're playing Penn State, No. 3 in the nation. Now if we can hang with those guys, maybe we've got the material to get back on up there where we belong."
The Seminoles did more than hang with Penn State, and certainly could have beaten the Nittany Lions.
But a litany of mistakes - including 13 penalties for 129 yards, a 3-for-17 conversion rate on third downs, and three missed kicks by Gary Cismesia - combined to doom Florida State. Cismesia missed an extra-point try in regulation, then two field goals in overtime, adding to the bizarre legacy of Seminole kicking miscues.
When Florida State is on football's biggest stages, the kicking game usually seems to go awry. The Seminoles have lost five games since the 2000 season - four against archrival Miami - when field goals sailed wide right, wide left, or were blocked.
And Cismesia's night was even tougher. Not only did he miss the two field-goal tries, he missed the first extra-point of his career at the absolute worst time.
Bowden, however, didn't place any extra blame on his kicker, saying the kicks were among many missed chances.
"We lost the ball game maybe on one play," Bowden said he told his team afterward. "There's a lot of one plays, but if you make this play and they don't, you win the game. It's not like they beat you to death. ... I think this is a great foundation to build next year's team on. That's about the way I approached it."
That's also how he'll approach recruiting season.
Bowden was asked after the game how he'll convince recruits to come to Florida State in what some perceive as a down cycle; the Seminoles have lost 20 games in the last five years, the exact number of defeats they suffered in the 15 seasons from 1986-2000.
His answer: "I'll show them my ring."
Bowden's teams have won 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships in 14 seasons, including an improbable crown this year when the Seminoles - who had lost three straight games - upset Virginia Tech in the ACC's first title game and earned an Orange Bowl berth.
And with plenty of returners, Bowden thinks even more championships are possible for 2006.
"You ain't going to win 10 games every year," Bowden said. "We've already done the impossible. You think anybody will ever do again what we did, 14 years in a row (ending the season ranked in the) top five? You think anybody will do that again? ... Everybody expects that every year and gosh, it just don't work that way."