The college football regular season will conclude on Saturday as Army takes on Navy in the annual finale.
The Midshipmen will try to win bragging rights while Army aims for a second straight 10-win season and gets set for a bowl. For the first time since 1981, one team not preparing for a bowl game this December is Florida State.
As most are well aware, FSU’s streak of 36 straight bowl appearances and 41 straight winning seasons came to an end two weeks ago with a 41-14 home loss to rival Florida. While the end of the bowl streak is well-documented, few have taken the time to appreciate how remarkable it truly was.
When the streak started in 1982, there were 113 FBS — then Division I-A — programs. There are now 130. The ACC at the time had just seven teams — half as many as today — and Florida State was a decade away from joining. Georgia Tech had also yet to join.
Prior to 2018, the streak certainly had its close calls. The Seminoles finished just 7-6 in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2017. Before going any further, it should be noted that the NCAA considers the streak to have died in 2006 after the Seminoles were forced to vacate seven wins following a university academic cheating scandal. More often than not, however, FSU was far closer to college football’s pinnacle than simply hovering over mediocrity.
Over the course of the bowl streak, FSU may have finished 7-6 four times, but the Seminoles also managed to win at least 10 games on 21 occasions. Six other times, Florida State won at least nine games. In other words, FSU won at least nine games for 75 percent of the 36-year streak and at least 10 games more than 58 percent of the time.
Over the duration of the bowl streak, Florida State won three national championships and notably finished in the top 5 in 14 straight seasons from 1987-2000. Over the 36 years, FSU finished in the AP top 10 on 18 occasions — or half the time — and in the AP top 5 on 16 occasions. That amounts to better than 44 percent of the time. For a streak that spanned nearly four decades, that is truly remarkable.
While preserving the streak simply required getting to a bowl, FSU was rarely complacent with doing so. Over the 36-year bowl streak, the Seminoles went 27-8-1 over that span. That included an NCAA-record 11 straight bowl wins from 1985 to 1995.
Given the current coaching climate of college football, it’s also noteworthy that the streak lasted with just two full-time head coaches. Bobby Bowden coached FSU to 28 straight bowl appearances before retiring following the 2009 season.
His successor, Jimbo Fisher, led FSU to a bowl in each of his eight years as head coach, although it should be noted that interim Odell Haggins coached the Seminoles to a win in the regular season finale against Louisiana-Monroe and an Independence Bowl victory over Southern Mississippi to cap the 2017 campaign.
While FSU had just two full-time head coaches over the 36-year span, rivals Florida and Miami had more than that in Fisher’s 8-year tenure alone. Consider also that from 1982 to 2017, Alabama had eight full-time head coaches, Ohio State had five, Notre Dame had seven, USC had eight, Michigan had six, Nebraska had five and Oklahoma had six. Those are all programs considered to have a more storied history than Florida State.
With the record bowl streak by the wayside, the longest streak in the nation now belongs to Virginia Tech at 26 years. Like FSU had to do last season with Louisiana-Monroe, the Hokies recently extended their streak by beating Marshall in a rescheduled game to become bowl-eligible.
Only time will tell whether Virginia Tech will be able to keep the streak going for another decade, but the overall body of work will likely pale in comparison to Florida State’s recently deceased streak. The Seminoles finished in the top 5 in 14 straight seasons at one point during the streak and won three national championships. The Hokies have yet to win a national championship and have finished in the AP top 10 seven times during their streak — less than half as often as the Seminoles finished in the top 5.
As impressive as past dynasties like Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams of the 1940s or Pete Carroll’s USC teams of the early 2000s were or as Nick Saban’s current tenure at Alabama is, it’s unlikely that college football will ever see a streak with such mix of dominance and longevity as the one that just ended in Tallahassee. As sad as it is to see it go, it’s still something worth remembering and celebrating.