With Miami opening its season a week early, resulting in a bye for this official opening weekend for college football—one can only hope these kids witnessed what took place across the country and that head coach Manny Diaz will find a way to use it at a teachable moment for his players.
Week One had its share of drama, but no primer an example of what not to do than the debacle at Doak Campbell Stadium, as Florida State blew a 31-13 lead to Boise State—giving up 23 points unanswered, despite the advantage of the game being relocated from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and kickoff being moved from primetime to high-noon.
Even with the venue change and moved-up time, the underdog who traveled 2,300+ miles never flinched and found a way to outlast the home team; a national championship-caliber program that prides itself on better athletes and superior conditioning—which the Seminoles obviously thought was enough to carry them to victory. It wasn’t.
Miami and Florida also boast similar state pride; having dominated in an era where the Canes, Gators or Seminoles would wear visiting opponents down in the Sunshine State heat, taking over games in the fourth quarter—especially Miami, who’s “four fingers” tradition started by way of late-game domination and grinding out wins.
This is a pivotal time for these Florida programs who make up “The Big Three”—which Diaz is well aware of, growing up in Miami, watching the Canes in the Decade of Dominance era—as well as witnessing probation in the nineties, rebuilding for the early 2000’s and backsliding yet again, thanks to low-rent coaching hires and a decade-plus of football where the Miami’s former president didn’t care to put money towards athletics.
How Florida State’s Willie Taggart or Florida’s Dan Mullen choose to attack this program—and mythical Sunshine State air of superiority based on past success—is on the two of them. The concern here is Miami and wanting to make sure Diaz and staff can inject the Hurricanes’ rich history into the modern era, without allowing these kids to believe that growing up playing football in South Florida instantly makes them better than other players across the nation—to the point where they aren’t putting in the required work.
Yes, there is a competitive advantage growing up and playing in sweltering conditions—but as Florida State learned against Boise State—it still takes next-level effort and execution to finish the job. The era of opposing teams wilting in defense just by seeing a “U”, a spear or a script “Gators” on a helmet—long gone.
BRONCOS’ TAKEDOWN OF ILL-PREPARED SEMINOLES; EYE-OPENING
For those who chose to watch the Seminoles take on the Broncos—it was obviously a tale of two halves. Florida State jumped out to a 24-6 lead early in the second quarter. To that point; business as usual. An early Boise State fumble resulted in a 38-year Cam Akers touchdown run. On the ensuing possession, a 75-yard dump-off from James Blackman to Tamorrion Terry that went for the score.
“Speed Kills”—or so that looked to be the case early-on.
Boise State couldn’t find the end zone, twice setting for field goals—while a 10-play, 76-yard drive for Florida State showed that the Noles could drive methodically downfield, as well.
Blackman fumbled when sacked midway through the second quarter, leading to the Broncos’ first end-zone visit—but the Noles exploded again, Blackman hitting Terry again for 17 yards before finding Keyshawn Helton for a 58-yard touchdown to regain momentum. Boise State on the the board with another field goal, but down 31-19 at the half things weren’t looking good for the road dog.
(In our best ESPN 30-For-30 voice) “What if I were to tell you, Blackman’s touchdown pass to Helton with 4:07 remaining in the first half would be Florida State’s final score of the day….” — because that’s precisely how things played out. The Seminoles punted on six of eight second half possessions; fumbling once and turning it over on downs in the final two minutes.
Equally as bad; an opportunity to stop Boise State from taking the lead early in the fourth quarter, when a jarring hit popped the ball loose after George Holani picked up 12 yards and a first down on a pass from true freshman Hank Bachmeier—only to see undisciplined Seminoles’ defenders go full-blown Keystone Cops, falling over each other to half-recover, half-pick-it-up—while Broncos’ tight end Garrett Collingham went full fundamentals-mode, jumping on it and securing the ball.
Two plays later, Boise State punched it in and a would add a field goal on their next possession after a Seminoles’ three and out. Florida State got the ball back with just over two minutes remaining—picking up eight yards on 4th-ad-4, only to have it called back for holding. On 4th-and-13, Blackman scrambled for nine yards, resulting in a turnover on downs and an upset in the books for the Broncos.
CANES VICTIMS OF THEIR OWN SLOP; GATORS BARELY SURVIVED
While we’re certainly harping on Florida State here, let’s be clear—Miami also fell victim to sloppy play last weekend against No. 8 Florida, blowing ample shots to win the game late. Just as the Noles pissed away a would-be first down on their final drive, the Hurricanes saw a fake field goal called back in the fourth quarter—which ultimately led to a missed field goal attempt after the drive stalled.
Miami got another crack after that, when Florida bone-headedly threw late and Feleipe Franks was intercepted by Romeo Finley—only to lose 30 yards in one tick off the clock thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct call, followed by an illegal block on first down.
Lest the Gators ride high and mighty over their win against the Canes, a reminder that a squad that went 10-3 last year and was expected to do big things in 2019—starting with rolling unranked Miami. Instead, Florida looked beyond sloppy and pedestrian against a UM team with a r-freshman quarterback, a brand new offensive staff and a first-year head coach.
Florida could’ve put a short-term stranglehold on “The Big Three” with a dominating win over Miami—also having whipped Florida State last November, 41-14—but instead left Orlando with more question marks than answers; especially in regards to Franks, who regressed since closing strong in 2018, throwing two interceptions, fumbling once and wasting time mixing it up with the crowd instead of leading his teammates.
The old adage that the road to the national championship ran through the state of Florida—as the winner of Miami versus Florida State or Florida State versus Florida was oft in the driver’s seat for a spot in the title game throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s; that ship has sailed.
The Noles are the last to capture a championship; winning it all in 2013 thanks to a Heisman-worthy season from controversial quarterback Jameis Winston. Prior-to, the Noles hadn’t won it all this century, while the coach who brought them that forgotten promised land—Jimbo Fisher—bailed for College Station and a fat Texas A&M paycheck as things were bottoming-out in Tallahassee.
The Gators had a strong run with a Heisman-winning quarterback of their own, as Tim Tebow led them to the 2008 national championship—two years after Urban Meyer brought home a ring in his second season at the helm in Gainesville. Once things took a step back in the post-Tebow era, Meyer did his best Fred Sanford and leaned on some made-up health issues to walk his way out of the job.
Since then, not much to boast about as Mullen is the third hire in the post-Meyer era; Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain were a combined 50-33—each with a few ups, but more downs than expected; winning the SEC East three times in seven seasons, but never a conference title.
TWO TRUE POWERS; EVERYONE ELSE VULNERABLE IF THEY SLIP
College football has been turned on its collective ear over the past several seasons as there is more parity in today’s game than ever before. Alabama has been the king of that mountain for the past decade under Nick Saban—who’s brought five national championships to Tuscaloosa since 2009, while losing the title game twice in that span; both to Clemson—who is the newest national power, but only after it took Dabo Swinney a decade to go from upstart, to contender, to champion.
Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State all make up that next tier—knocking on the door, but struggling to kick it in; though Meyer got the Buckeyes there in 2014 for their first title in a dozen years since robbing Miami in the Tempe desert—but outside of that group, no one else has truly broken through consistently.
Even scarier; the amount of unthinkable upsets that are occurring annually. Back in 2007, Appalachian State did the unthinkable—going into The Big House and upsetting No. 5 Michigan, 34-32 in Ann Arbor. The game was talked about for years and became somewhat of a red flag warning for big time programs; a worst-case scenario type game that could happen to you if you weren’t prepared.
Fast-forward a decade and David versus Goliath-type match-ups like that became much more common place.
Two years back lowly Troy went into Baton Rouge and upset LSU; an SEC Power and perennial national title contender that is often one half of the game-of-the-year when playing division rival Alabama. A few years prior, Georgia Southern went into The Swamp and upended the Gators, 26-20 for Florida’s first-ever loss to an FSC program in the school’s history.
Last year; three notable upsets—Eastern Michigan taking down Purdue, BYU upsetting Wisconsin at Camp Randall and Old Dominion topping Virginia Tech in Norfolk.
Two weekends into 2019—Tennessee lost to Georgia State in Knoxville, Nevada knocked off Purdue and Wyoming upset Missouri; the Tigers expected to make a run in the SEC East as one of a few true threats to beat Georgia—doing so with former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who had his shot late, but couldn’t overcome the 37-14 hole his defense put him in entering the fourth quarter.
There was also a close call in Ames as Iowa State—finally getting respect and it’s first-ever Top 25 preseason ranking under trendy, up-and-coming head coach Matt Campbell—needed three overtimes to survive Northern Iowa; member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, while the once-hot Kevin Sumlin saw his Arizona Wildcats came up a yard short (literally) at Hawaii last Saturday night.
There was also a mild upset when North Carolina—with Mack Brown back in charge—took down South Carolina in Charlotte. The Tar Heels were a 2-9 program in 2018, losing seven of their final eight, leading to the release of seventh-year head coach Larry Fedora. While the game was sloppy and UNC almost gave it away late to the Gamecocks, it should have Diaz and Miami on high alert that the Heels aren’t going to roll over next weekend.
North Carolina has always played Miami tough in Chapel Hill and with Brown injecting some life and passion into his UNC squad, further proof that there will be no conference gimmes this fall.
“THE BIG THREE” NEED TO TAKE INVENTORY WHEN REBUILDING
There’s no doubt it’s understandably hard for Miami, Florida and Florida State to accept their current places in the college football landscape—having all been on top in the past, while the state itself once represented championship football at it’s highest level; the three programs with a combined 11 national titles the past 37 seasons, having left a few championships on the field, as well.
That being said, a true assessment of where one’s at, as well as a a logical estimate of where there sport currently resides—and what it will take to be a contender again—are all critical if the Canes, Gators or Noles are going to take their programs next-level anytime soon.
Florida survived it’s opener against Miami, but has work to do—while the Canes, even in defeat, showed they’re not the same lifeless, underachieving program they were last season under Mark Richt.
As for Florida State, last year’s 5-7 run—the Noles’ first losing season since 1976— might just prove to the tip of a shit iceberg. Where Mullen and Diaz look to have their respective programs on comeback tracks, of sorts—Taggart won’t soon shake off a blown 18-point lead, a proud defense that surrender 621 yards, as well as a second half shutout for new offensive coordinator Kendal Bries; though to be FSU’s biggest off-season pick-up.
All in all, Week One for college football proved to be a good one to witness from the sidelines as there were enough cautionary tales to last any potential contender an entire season.
In short; buckle in tight as college football looks to be a bumpy ride for many this fall.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.