TALLAHASSEE — If Willie Taggart eventually transforms his Seminoles back into championship contenders, we might look back on last week’s victory as the turning point.
Trailing by eight in the fourth quarter, Florida State looked headed for a fourth consecutive loss, in front of the smallest home crowd in three decades. A defeat would have ended the program’s two cornerstone streaks — 36 consecutive bowl games and 41 straight winning seasons. Without those points of pride, it would have been easy to envision things spiraling out of control in the season finale against Florida, raising even more questions about the program’s direction.
Instead, FSU rallied for a 22-21 win — the Seminoles’ first over a ranked opponent since the 2016 Orange Bowl. For the players, the upset showed that Taggart’s cultural and schematic changes might be starting to pay off.
“Sometimes when you lose, you forget what winning feels like,” defensive back Stanford Samuels said. “For us to get this win, to have that winning feeling again, is huge. It’s huge for our program right now. It’s going to help us turn things back around.”
If nothing else, it gave the ‘Noles some much-needed confidence before the Gators game. And they were eager to share that confidence Saturday night.
“We can’t afford anything else but a win,” Samuels said. “That’s all we’re talking about. We’re going to win next week. We’re going to beat the Gators.”
“Everybody thought we were done and all, so we had to upset them —show them we would come out and play,” receiver Tamorrion Terry said. “(Going to) do that next week, too, with Florida.”
If Samuels and Terry are right, the Seminoles will extend their record bowl streak to 37 years. While that would be a strong testament to the program’s consistency, it might not be what’s best for the program’s future.
Regardless of what happens against UF, the ‘Noles have a long way to go before they catch up to the nation’s elite programs. That’s been obvious over the last month, when FSU lost to College Football Playoff contenders Clemson and Notre Dame by a combined 78 points. The way to close that gap is through what Taggart does best: Recruiting.
The new December signing day makes it harder to balance recruiting with bowl preparation. Tampa’s Gasparilla Bowl — a possible destination for FSU —is Dec. 20, right in the middle of the three-day signing period.
One juicy possibility’s still in play; a bowl matchup that Joey Knight writes would go down as the most captivating in USF history. #USF @USFFootball #FSU @FSUFootball @TBTimes_Bulls @TB_Times @GasparillaBowl https://t.co/Vddz51cPo2
— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) November 20, 2018
Taggart didn’t seem pleased last year at Oregon when the Las Vegas Bowl was set to spoil a big recruiting weekend.
“Not ideal for us,” Taggart told The Oregonian.
Missing a bowl altogether wouldn’t be ideal, either, but finding more game-ready linemen and game-breaking receivers is more important for Taggart’s future than spending Christmas in Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl.
The Seminoles, of course, aren’t seeing things that way. They haven’t lost to UF since 2012; they don’t want to start now.
As importantly, they need to close the year with a second consecutive boost of optimism that the program is heading in the right direction.
“They’re buying into the culture, they’re buying into the vision of what we set out to do with our program…” Taggart said. “We still got some more work to do, but we laid the foundation, and we’re going to keep moving.”
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.