NCF Nation: Bobby Bowden

Terry Bowden grew up in Morgantown and attended West Virginia. For fun, he and his friends would make the hour-plus trip to the big city of Pittsburgh to go shopping at the South Hills mall. He'd watch Terry Bradshaw sling it at Steelers training camp in Latrobe.

So yes, the Akron coach can probably tell you more about Saturday's opponent and the Western Pennsylvania region than many within the Pitt program.

Like the difference between old Heisman winner Tony Dorsett and the nation's current top rusher, James Conner.

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AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarTerry Bowden is in his third year as Akron's coach.
"He would accelerate into a crack like you never saw anybody do it," Bowden says of Dorsett. "This guy (Conner) will make the crack. He'll make the hole, and then run through it."

Or the excitement of the Pirates clinching consecutive postseason berths.

"That's awesome. I go back to Willie Stargell. I go back to chicken on the Hill and Bob Prince," he says of the announcer's famous call.

Or the worst loss his dad, the legendary Bobby Bowden, experienced during his 44-year head-coaching career.

"He'll tell you: It was 36-35 to Pitt," Terry Bowden says. "He was winning 35-8 at halftime, in his first year as a head coach in college at West Virginia, and they played it it too tight and (Pitt) decided they would not punt on fourth, they were just gonna go for it because they thought they were gonna get run off the field, and they made every one. And by the time they made every fourth down the last one was at the end of the game to win the game, 36-35."

More importantly, the third-year Zips coach can point to the third-year Panthers coach he'll be squaring off against this weekend and notice plenty of similarities, from the stamp each is trying to put on his program to the coaching bloodlines that carried each into his chosen profession.

Paul Chryst, of course, is the son of the late George Chryst, a beloved figure on the Wisconsin-Platteville campus who served as head coach for 14 years before his sudden death at the age of 55, in 1992. Bowden, who like his father Bobby and brother Tommy has a coach of the year award to his name, knows such exposure to that life as a child rubs off.

"I feel real fortunate to have grown up the way I did," Chryst said. "You don't know as a kid, you only know what your life is, and when you look back and reflect on it, it's a great way to grow up, and so I was kind of attracted to the profession that way, a ton of respect, look up to your dad; there's a lot of kids that want to be like their dad.

"I think what it was is you're just around the game probably more so than Xs and Os. By the time I was really serious into coaching, my dad had passed away. I was just getting into it. But I think it was just being around it, being around the game, and the people."

Says Bowden: "I've often said that being the son of a football coach, the biggest thing you know how to do is you know how how to act like a football coach -- when you win, when you lose, when you drop a couple of games, when you have to respond from a tough situation."

It doesn't get much tougher than what Bowden experienced at the end of last season, when separate car accidents during a four-day span in December took the lives of Akron assistant Alan "Tank" Arrington and nephew T.J. Bowden, the son of Zips assistant Jeff.

"It shakes your foundation," he says. "It makes you put football in perspective. When all is said and done, it brings your family together, and it brings your football family together. And you mourn together and you come together, and at end of the day you know that there's a bigger picture out there and things that we don't understand, but there's also the language -- people come together and grow from these experiences, and I think most of us here have."

Bowden says he's trying to take Akron to a place it's never been before, and he tries not to lose sight of the big picture. He jokes that you could be a heck of a coach in his family and still never be better than second-best. He knows the identity of the program he's facing Saturday, and he sees how close Chryst -- a coach he has no prior relationship with -- is to restoring that.

"I'm 58 now, but I'm always Bobby Bowden's son," he says. "Heck, that's my mentor. My dad's my mentor. All of us boys and his sons, we've tried to emulate our father."

The coach he'll meet at Heinz Field will likely nod in agreement.
Bobby Bowden, Matthew McConaugheyMCT via Getty Images, AP PhotoBobby Bowden said some have pegged Matthew McConaughey to play him on the big screen.

On Monday morning, legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden allowed fans to "ask me anything" via a Reddit.com chat. Here is the best of what we learned about Bowden during his hour-long conversation.

On who would play him in a movie about his life: There were some people that came to see me about making a movie, but they didn't end up doing it. They talked about, dadgummit, about the guy that played Jack Lengyel in We Are Marshall. Yea, Matthew McConaughey!

On his most memorable season: My memorable season was 1977. It was my second year at Florida State. Now the year before we had our only losing season and before that we had an 0-11 season. In 1977 we played in our first bowl game in about 5 years, we were nationally rank for the first time in about 5 years, and we beat Texas Tech in the Citrus Bowl. It finally turned our program around.

On Jameis Winston being best ever FSU QB: Let me say this. He's got the best start no doubt about it. And he could definitely end up the best, but let's see how his career goes. A lot of things can happen. People forget Chris Weinke took us to the NCG 3 straight times. How many quarterbacks have ever done that?

On peanuts in soda: Well you know, I always did that. I'd get an orange drink and put peanuts in it, or any cold drink. I think Jimbo does that too. It's an old country habit. That's just like lunch to me, boy.

On best player he ever coached: I think the best athlete I ever coached was Deion Sanders. We had other players who were good in their own way. But, I don't think we ever had anyone with as much natural talent.

On what he orders at Taco Bell: Wooh. Gosh, seldom do I eat at Taco Bell, I'm not sure. I don't know. I guess I'd look to see what the most expensive thing was and go ahead and buy it. Hoping that they know what they're talking about.

Steve Spurrier
AP Photo/Dave MartinBobby Bowden said he was a big fan of his rivalry with Steve Spurrier, especially the games he beat the Ol' Ball Coach.
On player unionization: I don't think that will go over. I think it's best that it doesn't go over. When a kid starts getting his own lawyer to tell you and the university how much to pay him, that's going too far.

On rivalry with Steve Spurrier: That was always a great motivating ballgame with Spurrier. The reason is, he was kind of an offensive genius so I always liked it when we'd outscore him, which we did a lot. He's one of the greatest coaches there has ever been though. Those were great matchups.

On the College Football Playoff and committee invite: I was not invited to join, but there were some rumors. I'm interested to see how that comes out. How do you keep your prejudices out of it? If you're a graduate of Oklahoma and it comes time to vote, are you really going to pick Oklahoma State?

I kind of liked it the way it was. They always got 1 vs. 2 right. Who cares about 3 or 4?

And the best answer of the day:

On what he would do if his statue on campus came to life: I wouldn't want to stop it. Keep raging.
Florida State is recruiting the best players, has a Heisman winning quarterback returning and received first glimpse of its championship rings Monday.

Be careful, Jimbo, of those Pasadena roses -- petals muted, fragrance faint but thorns sharpened, impervious to decay.

That sage advice comes from Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher’s predecessor, Bobby Bowden. The legendary Florida State coach whose statue greets staffers at the football offices entrance knows the spring pitfalls that accompany a national championship.

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Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsBobby Bowden, who coached the Seminoles to 14 straight top-5 finishes, knows Jimbo Fisher and FSU need to avoid any complacency this spring following their national title.
“One thing is true,” Bowden told ESPN.com Monday, “it’s easier to win one than to continue winning.”

Bowden won 304 games in 34 seasons at Florida State and two national championships. Although the Seminoles did not repeat in 1994 following his first national title, complacency never set in at Florida State. He went 42-4-1 the four seasons after the 1993 national title and reeled off 14 consecutive top-5 finishes from 1987-2000.

With Fisher getting his first taste of a national title as a head coach and Florida State’s rising seniors a combined 35-6 in their careers, the biggest question this spring is whether the program is poised for another decade-long run of national relevance.

“The big thing you try to do is prevent a letdown, prevent the kids being overconfident, taking things for granted,” Bowden said. “You need to be looking out for letdowns. You have to continue to talk and stress it to the boys and if you see it happen nip it in the butt.”

So far, so good. Through offseason conditioning, the players' efforts have Fisher convinced the 2014 team is not set up to revert to a middling ACC program.

“I’ve been very pleased. It’s been a very good offseason. I like the demeanor and mentality of our team right now; hopefully we can take it to spring practices and continue to grow, but I’m very proud of them,” Fisher said recently. “They know what to do, they know the culture, they know what’s expected and they’re going to take care of business.”

While no program is completely immune to letting its foot off the pedal, Fisher comes from the Tree of Saban, who's done better than any other coach at keeping his teams hungry. A former LSU assistant, Fisher coached under Nick Saban when the Tigers won the title in 2003. Saban, with his now infamously coined philosophy, “The Process,” has successfully fended complacency off much of the last decade. Sure, the Crimson Tide lost three games in 2010 following the 2009 title, but it took the wildest kick return since Kevin Moen trampled Gary Tyrrell to keep Saban from a third BCS championship.

In 2007, Saban hired mindset coach Trevor Moawad, who is now Vice President of Pro and Elite sports at API/EXOS. A specialist in mental conditioning, Moawad now splits his time between Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee. Fisher followed Saban’s initiative and asked Moawad to speak to his offense beginning in 2008.

In his time in Tallahassee, Moawad has shown clips of Mike Tyson’s loss to 42-to-1 underdog Buster Douglas. Tyson was ill-equipped and ill-prepared for a drawn-out boxing match having had just three of his previous 16 fights last past the seventh round.

“It won’t be Auburn like in 2010 when it found lightning in a bottle. ... The goal isn’t to win 14 games but to execute the process,” said Moawad, mimicking a tried-and-true Saban proverb. “These guys in this program know they don’t have to be sick to get better. Coach Fisher’s program is about structure and coaching and great talent, and those things are in place for other guys to step in and sustain it.”

Just keep your feet clear of any thorns.

Florida State bookends BCS era

December, 17, 2013
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The BCS era began with Florida State in a national title game and now ends with Florida State in a national title game, tidy bookends to be sure. But the time in between has not been about the Seminoles’ domination, as the bookends suggest.

It has been about reinvention.

No other program has remade itself in quite the same way over this 15-year period, starting as a champion, then sinking to mediocrity, then rising to play for a championship again. The overriding question up until this season -- up until the start of November, really -- was whether the Seminoles could truly return to their former glory.

Now the overriding question is whether this team could eclipse the best Florida State ever had to offer.

“They’re back,” former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said in a recent phone interview with ESPN.com. “They’re back the way we were in the ‘90s, where we played in five national championship games. If they win their next game, they’ll probably go down as the best team in Florida State history. The way they’ve won their games is unbelievable.”

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Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsBobby Bowden believes the current Florida State team could go down as the best in school history if the Seminoles beat Auburn.
That is a pretty bold statement from a man who coached two national champions and established the first Florida State dynasty. His program began competing for and winning national championships before the BCS was invented, headlining the late 1980s and 1990s. It came as little surprise, then, to see Florida State play for the first three BCS national championships.

Yet Florida State lost the first BCS title game to Tennessee in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, playing without injured quarterback Chris Weinke. The following season, the Seminoles began the year ranked No. 1 and used the national championship game disappointment as motivation.

Players knew they had the talent, but Bowden pushed them further, instituting mat drills on Tuesdays before practice. Come Saturday, Florida State was the best-conditioned team on the field. Players believed they would prevail in the fourth quarter every single time. When they beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, Florida State became the first team to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the nation.

“It was amazing that we could really put Florida State where they needed to be,” said Ron Dugans, a Florida State receiver from 1995-99 and now an assistant at Louisville. “I feel like it could have been more, but you really appreciate getting a chance to go 12-0. Nowadays, it rarely happens. We take that for granted. Going undefeated doesn’t come easy. You look at how many draft picks, how many All-Americans, how many all-conference guys that have played at Florida State, all the great coaching. We only went undefeated once.”

The following season, the Seminoles lost the national championship game to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. While they made a few more BCS appearances in the ensuing years, they could not quite match the standards their predecessors built. NCAA sanctions also took a toll, forcing Florida State to vacate five wins in 2006 and six wins in 2007. Bowden was eventually forced out in 2009, closing his record-setting career with a 7-6 mark.

Jimbo Fisher has led the way back up to relevance, doing so in a vastly different landscape than the one Florida State navigated the last time it played for a title. The SEC has become the most dominant league in the nation, college coaches have become multimillionaires several times over, television dollars have redefined and reshaped conferences and long-standing rivalries, and the sport is headed for a four-team playoff.

But what has not changed is what got Florida State back on top.

Excel at recruiting and your chances of winning are greatly enhanced. Florida State currently has backups who could start somewhere else, the way it did when the BCS era began.

Excel at recruiting a talented quarterback, and your chances are enhanced further. Florida State has a Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston, the way it had a future Heisman winner in Weinke when the BCS era began.

“My philosophy is if you get the best players you’re going to win,” Bowden said. “The thing Jimbo has done such a great job of is recruiting. How does he go to Alabama and get the best quarterback in the country?”

Winston now has Florida State in position for comparisons. Bowden points to the way the 2013 team has won its games, ranking as the No. 2 scoring offense in the country and No. 1 scoring defense. Average margin of victory: 43 points. No team came within single digits.

“The only thing about our last team in ’99, we were No. 1 at the start of the season and were No. 1 every week and went through undefeated,” Bowden said. “This team beat everybody so bad if they win this next ballgame, they’re going to have a right to say whatever they want to say.”

Bowden is not the only one who believes. Corey Simon, a defensive tackle on the 1998 and 1999 teams, told Dugans the other day, “This team is just as good as the teams we had at Florida State when we were playing.”

“I think it’s slowly become the way it used to be,” Dugans said. “Those guys now, they’ve embraced the tradition at Florida State. They’ve got a chance to become a part of a legacy. They go out and play hard for the school colors, the school tradition, and the guys who helped put the school on the map.”

Now they have a chance to put Florida State back on the map. The national championship map.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For 57 years, there was coaching, but that life seems oddly foreign now.

These days, if it’s not raining, Bobby Bowden golfs. He might play once a week, but nearly every day he saunters out his backdoor and onto the adjoining course to hit balls and walk the grounds. By the time he returns home, he said, he’ll usually have lost two or three pounds.

“Which is good,” Bowden said, “because I like to eat.”

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Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe face of the Seminoles for 34 years, Bobby Bowden returns to Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday for the first time since retiring in 2009 and will plant the spear at midfield.
The other thing Bowden likes to do is talk. He might be known as much for his dadgum words as his wins. Bowden has 50 to 60 speaking engagements a year, talking with Christian groups, speaking at corporate seminars, addressing football programs. They all want to know the same thing: What’s the key to his success?

Bowden has answers -- lots of them. He’s built programs and launched careers, sold boosters on big-ticket donations and convinced superstars to come play for him. He handled an abysmally uncomfortable departure from Florida State with his usual class and came away a hero not just in Tallahassee, but across the country, where he’s still revered as the grandfather of college football.

Four years ago, Bowden wondered if retirement might be a death sentence. What he’s learned since is another of those lessons he can pass along to the hordes of eager students. Keep playing to win, and life will always be pretty good.

“To me, if you do nothing after you retire, you begin to die a little bit every day, and I didn’t want that to happen,” Bowden said. “I wanted to stay active, and I wanted to go out on fire.”

Bowden's departure from FSU was a sore subject, but one he hasn’t cared to relive. Long before his final push out the door, he’d promised to retire gracefully, to leave the program in the hands of his successor without casting a long shadow.

On Saturday, however, Bowden will return to the field that bears his name for the first time since 2009. More than 300 former players will be on hand to welcome him home, and he’ll plant the school’s famous spear at midfield. Bowden is eager to relive old times in the place he’d built his legacy.

“There’s no nerves,” Bowden said. “But I’m excited about it, getting to see a lot of people.”

Bowden called his son, Tommy, earlier this week to talk about his return. Tommy’s advice was simple: “Don’t cry.” He knows there’s not much that rattles his dad, but the chance to see so many old friends might do the trick.

But really, this isn’t an emotional return for Bowden. It’s something he’d always planned to do, he was just waiting for the right time.

At West Virginia, he replaced a successful coach (Jim Carlen, who was 25-13-3 from 1966-69), and he remembered the second guessing. He didn’t want Jimbo Fisher to face the same questions. So he poked his head in Fisher’s office the day he left and told his successor goodbye.

“I wanted to give [Fisher] a chance to let people accept him as the new coach,” Bowden said. “I think that day has come.”

Bowden always knew he’d keep his distance once he left the program, but he worried what might come next. As it turned out, retirement has been full of small surprises.

“All of a sudden I’m not coaching anymore, I don’t have to worry about grades, don’t have to worry about the conduct of players, winning the big game,” Bowden said. “I felt a big relief off my shoulders that I now did not have those worries.”

Bowden has stayed away from campus, but he’s hasn’t strayed from college football.

He votes in the Legends Poll, and he’s used that as an excuse to spend his Saturdays glued to the TV. He’ll watch games from 11 a.m. until 2 in the morning, “waiting for those California teams to finish up,” he said.

His son, Terry, is head coach at Akron, where another son, Jeff, is on staff. Bowden visits at least once a year, and he still talks football with his sons.

“We always have since I was a young coach," Terry said. "Now that I’m 57 and I’ve got grandkids, we still talk. But it’s more bouncing stuff off each other.”

Bowden's former assistant, Mark Richt, remains at Georgia, and the two have stayed in close contact. Richt credits Bowden for giving him his chance in coaching and opening his eyes to the power of faith.

“He’s meant so much to me,” Richt said. “Every minute I get with him, I just cherish it. I never can thank him enough for what he did for me.”

Bowden has become the senior voice in college football, too. When a big-picture take on the sport is needed, his phone rings, and he always answers. He’s talked about the advent of the up-tempo offenses (he was running those in the ’60s, he said) and the new targeting rules.

And Bowden continues to follow Florida State. He doesn’t want to jinx the current team, he said, but this group just might be good enough to win a national title. He knows a special team when he sees one.

And that’s the biggest reason Bowden is coming back now. His return heals some old wounds, Tommy said, and it’s important for the program, Fisher added. But really, it’s just about timing.

Bowden always belonged at Doak Campbell Stadium, and for obvious reasons.

“It’s what’s right about the world,” Fisher said. “I’m extremely excited because he was my hero, too.”

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
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With only Syracuse on a bye this week, there will be plenty to keep an eye on in the conference. Here’s a look at what to watch in Week 9, in no particular order:

1. Florida State flashback: All eyes will be on the pregame scene in Tallahassee, where former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden will make his first return to Doak Campbell Stadium since he was ousted following the 2009 season. Bowden will plant the famous spear at midfield, and nearly 400 former players are expected to attend the No. 2-ranked Seminoles’ game against NC State. "There's no nerves," Bowden told ESPN.com’s David Hale. "I'm excited about it, getting to see a lot of people."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Lance King/Getty ImagesBrandon Mitchell has been out since the opener for NC State.
2. Brandon Mitchell's return: While Florida State will be celebrating the return of its legendary coach, the Wolfpack will be celebrating the return of its injured starting quarterback. Mitchell broke his left foot in the season opener and hasn’t played since. He won the job over Pete Thomas this preseason, and his athleticism seemed to fit first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle offense well. He’ll face one of the toughest defenses in the country, though, on Saturday.

3. Wake’s hopes at an upset: The Demon Deacons are on a roll, having won back-to-back Atlantic Division games, and while the Canes lead the series 7-3, all three of Wake’s wins have come at Miami. Wake is looking to snap a six-game losing streak against ranked teams -- and Saturday is the 67th anniversary of the program’s win over No. 4 Tennessee, the highest-ranked team Wake has ever defeated. If the Deacs can continue to get the ball to receiver Michael Campanaro and play stingy defense, they could have a chance. Especially considering …

4. Miami’s ball security: You’ve heard it a million times this week. Miami has turned it over 12 times in the past three weeks. The Hurricanes the only team in the country to have at least four turnovers in three consecutive games this season and the first since East Carolina in 2011. Miami has also had four red-zone turnovers in its past three games. Meanwhile, Wake’s defense forced three turnovers in the Deacs’ victory over Maryland last week. Speaking of the Terps, watch out for …

5. Maryland’s quarterback controversy: It’s C.J. Brown OR Caleb Rowe listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart for Saturday’s game against Clemson, and coach Randy Edsall has played coy about Brown’s status since last week. Edsall said the indecision on his starter is health-related, not performance-related, but wouldn’t specify what’s wrong with Brown. Brown struggled in last week’s loss at Wake Forest, and Edsall said it was because of an injury unrelated to the concussion Brown suffered against Florida State. Stay tuned for which QB will be leading the Terps’ offense against a stingy Clemson D.

6. UNC’s run defense: Miami gashed the Tar Heels for 234 yards on the ground last week -- and that was with their leading rusher, Duke Johnson, sidelined for three quarters and four turnovers from the Canes. Boston College makes its living on the running game, led by senior Andre Williams, who leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (139.7).

7. Clemson’s rebound: Last week’s 51-14 home loss to Florida State was humbling and devastating to the Tigers. It knocked them out of the national championship picture, all but ruined quarterback Tajh Boyd's chances at winning the Heisman Trophy, and put them behind the Seminoles in the ACC race. How will the Tigers respond on the road? They’ve got more talent than the depleted Terps, but emotion could be a factor early.

8. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Veteran cornerback Antone Exum is expected to finally return for Saturday’s home game against Duke, more than eight months after he had offseason surgery to repair his ACL and a bone fracture. Exum was cleared Sept. 30, but he and the staff have played it cautious. Senior CB Kyle Fuller has broken up 10 passes in seven games and ranks fourth in the nation in passes defended (1.71 per game). They will come in handy against quarterback Duke, which is averaging 269 passing yards per game.

9. Replacement receivers: The ACC will be missing three of its top receivers, with Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett all out with injuries. Levern Jacobs will step in at the slot position in place of Diggs, and redshirt freshman Amba Etta-Tawo will take over Long’s spot. With Dorsett out at Miami, that likely means an increased role for Malcolm Lewis, who is listed as a backup at two spots, and true freshman Stacy Coley, who is listed as a co-starter at wide receiver, a starting kick returner and co-starter at punt returner.

10. BC WR Alex Amidon: The Eagles can do more than just run the ball, and Amidon needs just 144 receiving yards to become BC’s all-time leading pass receiver. He has three 100-plus yard receiving games this season and a school-record 10 for his 39-game collegiate career.

3-point stance: Florida State is back

October, 21, 2013
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1. We are fooled easily in the excitement of the moment. Yet Florida State so dominated at Clemson that the 51-14 victory will be one of the seminal moments of the season. It will mark the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in prime time, literally and otherwise. As good as Winston played, the Florida State defense played better. The Seminoles are back, and what better time? The university that dumped Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden four years ago will honor him this Saturday.

2. The one complaint against the makeup of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that has merit is that West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, at age 53, is the youngest member. It makes sense that the commissioners wanted gravitas on the committee, and with the presence of members such as Tom Osborne, Mike Tranghese and Pat Haden, they have it. But they made room for a woman and a retired sportswriter. However hard they searched for a member under 40, they should have looked again.

3. The old protocols are butting heads with the new spread offenses, and everyone is groping for the right way to act. Should the offense throw when it’s way ahead? Baylor is averaging 64.7 points per game, and judging by the Bears’ No. 8 ranking, no one is holding that against them. Should the offense throw if it’s way behind? Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti ripped Washington State head coach Mike Leach for throwing 89 times, then apologized last night. No one knows what the rules should be any more.
Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence stemming from his arrest after crashing his car in March, and he was sentenced Monday to 364 days in jail with 363 suspended.

So he'll serve a day in jail before fall camp begins on Aug. 5.

But the big question, at least for the Pac-12 blog's purposes, is what coach Steve Sarkisian will do now? Not only with Seferian-Jenkins but also receiver Kasen Williams, who had his own offseason legal scrape.

Sarkisian's two best weapons in the passing game appear to be due some sort of suspension, which would mean quarterback Keith Price could be severely hamstrung in the season-opener against Boise State, a likely preseason top-25 team.

[+] EnlargeAustin Seferian-Jenkins
Jesse Beals / Icon SMIWhat kind of suspension, if any, will Steve Sarkisian hand down to star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins?
That game, of course, will be the first in remodeled Husky Stadium. It is a huge game for Sarkisian and the Huskies as they try to take a step forward after three consecutive seven-win seasons.

There isn't anyone who doesn't view that game as huge for the program -- a tone-setter for the season.

You can imagine that Sark is just a bit unhappy that his stars players, who should be barking in the locker room at teammates about not doing these stupid things that they were doing. They've screwed him and their teammates.

Where's the leadership, gents? Call a freaking cab. Heck, call Sark. I know he'd stop whatever he was doing and come pick you up in order to keep you from driving while impaired.

The Pac-12 blog is not going to get bent about underage drinking. But getting behind the wheel at any age after drinking is not a victimless, boys-will-be-boys crime, even if good luck prevails and no one else gets hurt. Putting others at risk by drinking and driving is not a minor mistake that can be addressed by a slap on the wrist.

So the easy answer for Sarkisian is to suspend these guys for one, two or three games. Last year, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov was suspended for just one game for a DUI. That probably would satisfy the folks who expect Sarkisian to hold his players accountable. Some would say that would send a message to the Huskies as a whole about discipline and there being nonnegotiable consequences for their poor behavior. And maybe it would.

As for the win-loss column, while the opener against the Broncos would be put at risk, the Huskies should be able to handle Illinois and Idaho State without Seferian-Jenkins and Williams.

Yet there are two alternatives: 1. Sarkisian doesn't suspend either player and says punishment was internal; 2. He opts to suspend the players for Games 2 and 3 but plays them against Boise State.

He would not be the first Pac-12 coach to go wishy-washy over an off-field incident -- recall this expediency from Oregon State's Mike Riley.

In both cases, Sarkisian would get plenty of blowback, even some from the Pac-12 blog. He'd probably get more for No. 2, which would amount to an admission that winning the Boise State game mattered more than that whole "molding young men into upstanding citizens" thing.

Yet here's the reality: If the Huskies win 10 games and earn a final top-25 ranking this fall, no one will be talking about Sarkisian going soft on Williams and Seferian-Jenkins. For better or worse, winning cures just about everything in big-time sports, including college football.

Sarkisian, whether anyone at Washington would admit it or not, was hired to win football games, not teach his players tough life lessons that guide them down the path toward high character. He can try to do both -- and my personal opinion is Sarkisian legitimately cares about his players -- but winning comes first.

I remember covering the 1999 national title game between Florida State and Virginia Tech when Bobby Bowden opted to not penalize kicker Sebastian Janikowski for violating curfew. I thought Bowden was hilarious while defending himself against a media pounding, but I found myself in the minority amid much righteous indignation.

Bowden's reasoning was simple: Playing Janikowski improved his chances to win a national title. Suspending him would hurt them.

"I like him," Bowden said at the time. "Sure, it's favoritism, but we have the international rule [Janikowski was from Poland]. This isn't a democracy, and everyone doesn't have a vote. It's communism or whatever. I made the decision."

Bowden got his second national title. Any of you remember much about the Janikowski incident?

I also remember an interesting conversation with former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti after I wrote this in 2004, ripping him for allowing Richie Incognito and Rodney Woods to become Ducks. As was Bellotti's way, which is usual among football coaches, he was measured and objective.

To paraphrase a long-ago chat, he told me he understood my take, though he disagreed with it. He and I both had a job to do. His was winning football games and dealing with guys like me. And it's notable that the second-chance worked out for Woods (and Incognito lasted just a week with the Ducks).

Of course, decisions have ripples, and those ripples can lead to unintended consequences. Bowden and Florida State, though they played for the national title the next season, began a gradual decline that led to his awkward exit in 2009.

If Sarkisian shows leniency, it could end up loosening his grip on the locker room, where guys might believe they'll also get a pass. It could become a long-term negative for his tenure.

But is Sarkisian thinking longterm? He is under moderate pressure to produce this season or find his seat warming substantially. And he has the team to do it ... at least when you factor in having A-list guys at tight end and receiver.

It's a tough call.

But the only reason we'd still be talking about it in December is if the Huskies underachieve and fans are grousing about Sarkisian.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden plans to be at two Florida State games this fall -- his first two since his controversial departure in 2009.

There is nobody happier about this news than Jimbo Fisher.

"It’s great for him to come back," Fisher said recently from the ACC spring meetings. "You’re talking about the winningest coach in college football history. You’re talking about the guy I revered. That was my guy I grew up around. I think it’s great he can be honored in the way he should be honored for college football, and what he’s done for Tallahassee and Florida State and college football in general, one of the great ambassadors and people in college football history. I’m excited about him coming back. I’m glad he’s coming back."

Fisher served as the coach-in-waiting before being elevated to head coach following Bowden's messy departure from the school. Though much time has passed since Bowden has been to a game in Doak Campbell Stadium, he always maintained he wanted to stay away after retirement to give the new head coach time to build his own program.

Fisher knew all about that plan -- well before he was designated coach-in-waiting in 2007. Back during his playing days at Samford in Birmingham, Ala., Fisher got to know Bowden, who also played and coached at Samford.

"You know something? He always said he was going to move out," Fisher recalled. "I remember having conversations with him when I wasn't even a full time coach, '88,' 89, '90 I sat around the pool with him and (he said) whenever he retired, he wasn’t going to hang around. Because somebody did that to him. He used to say that back in the day, it’s not fair to the other coaches."

The Fishers and Bowdens are on good terms. They most recently attended a fundraiser together in Alabama with Alabama coach Nick Saban a few months ago. Bowden is to attend the Oct. 26 game against NC State and the Nov. 16 homecoming game against Syracuse, when he will join members of his 1993 national championship team for a celebration of their 20th anniversary.
1. It’s great to hear that Florida State will honor former coach Bobby Bowden at a game this season. Four years ago, the university shoved Bowden out the door, and the only one who acted with any honor was Bowden. He maintained his distance from the program even when he got past his own hurts because he wanted to give Jimbo Fisher, his hand-picked successor, room to establish himself. And now the time has come. Bowden accepted the university’s offer with grace, proving that class never ages.

2. Loved the best/worst of the BCS era that the conference bloggers posted this week. Matt Fortuna pointed out that the Big East membership that began the BCS era had the football chops. Miami and Virginia Tech appeared in three of the first five BCS championship games. The original membership didn’t go very deep, but the teams at the top rocked. But Miami didn’t stay on top, and left. Virginia Tech didn’t stay on top, and left. And none of the other Big East teams picked up the slack.

3. I understand why Maryland doesn’t want to pay the ACC a $52 million exit fee on its way to the Big Ten. And I understand Maryland’s argument that the ACC didn’t suffer any injury because Louisville and Notre Dame are coming to the conference. But the ACC membership, with Maryland as a member, approved the exit fee. What does it matter whether the ACC is injured or not? The league had a rule. Maryland is a member of the league. Why shouldn’t Maryland live by the rule? Am I missing something?
Florida State set a school record with 11 NFL draft picks over the weekend. That also happened to lead the entire nation, ranking ahead of national champion Alabama, LSU and yes, even Florida.

So what does this say about the Noles as a program? Are they finally back, or just a pack of underachievers? Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich debate.

Andrea says: The proof is in the picks.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Jimbo Fisher had as much talent to work with as any coach in the country last season.
We all know the Seminoles have their detractors, who believe every season must be a perfect season or else it is a complete and utter disappointment. Raising the bar the way this program did in the late 1980s through the mid-2000s means living with the type of expectations reserved for only the most elite programs in the entire country.

Coach Jimbo Fisher lives with these expectations every day. But he also lives in reality. And reality says that Florida State stumbled badly in the final few years under coach Bobby Bowden, and it takes more than snapping your fingers, rolling a Florida State helmet onto a field and planting a spear to get a program back into national championship contention.

It takes time. And it takes talent. And, well, Florida State had a lack of talent. In Bowden’s final four seasons, 2006-09, the Noles had 12 total draft picks -- including one in the 2009 draft. That’s just one more than Florida State had this past weekend. So, Fisher has gotten the talent on par with what Florida State used to produce.

The next step is translating that into a national championship. Should the Seminoles have done that this past season, given the players selected into the pros? Depends on your perspective, of course.

Hindsight says Florida State needed a perfect run to make it into the national title game. But the Seminoles were an imperfect team, even with all those picks. And that imperfect team ended up winning the ACC title, the Orange Bowl and finishing with 12 wins for the first time since 1999. Just about every coach in America will take that, hold his head up high and use it as a sales pitch on the recruiting trail.

Coaches will tell you that it takes more than talent to win a title. It takes a little bit of luck, too. Florida State had its best season in years, with the best talent the school has assembled. That does not mean the Noles fell short. It means they are nearly back to the mountaintop. When’s the last time anybody in Tallahassee could say that?

Heather says: A huge opportunity has been lost.

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In 2012, Florida State had the fastest car in the race but not enough gas to finish it.

With a school-record 11 NFL draft picks -- more than national champion Alabama (nine), LSU (nine) and rival Florida (eight) -- FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was driving a machine. There was more NFL talent on that roster than any other program in the nation.

And yet …

There were nine other schools ranked ahead of the Noles in the final Associated Press poll.

There was the fourth-quarter collapse in the loss to NC State. There was the fourth-quarter meltdown against rival Florida, in which FSU’s heralded defense allowed 24 straight points in a span of less than nine minutes. There was the pedestrian performance against Northern Illinois in which FSU was fooled repeatedly by trick plays on special teams en route to a precarious 14-3 lead at the half. There was more than enough evidence throughout the season to conclude that this year’s draft was further proof that the Noles underachieved at 12-2 last season.

Underachieved?? An ACC title and a win in the Discover Orange Bowl and they underachieved?

It was a consolation prize.

When your recruiting classes and expectations are on par with Alabama, LSU and Florida, the on-field product should be on par with the nation’s elite, too. There were too many instances last fall in which Florida State looked vulnerable -- including a 13-point win at South Florida, and a last-minute touchdown needed to beat Virginia Tech -- the worst Virginia Tech team Frank Beamer has coached in 20 years.

Look, Florida State has so many reasons to be proud. It was a banner year for the program, and things are certainly better than they were in the years leading up to Bobby Bowden’s exit. In order to truly join the nation’s elite, though, Florida State has to do more than just look like a national title contender comprised of 11 NFL draft picks -- it has to start playing like one.

Bobby Bowden set to return to FSU

April, 26, 2013
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I had one reaction when I saw that Bobby Bowden would be returning to Florida State for the first time since his controversial departure in 2009.

It's about time.

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBobby Bowden won 10 or more games from 1987-2000 as coach at Florida State.
I know there were bitter feelings from the Bowden side. I know Florida State handled the whole situation about as poorly as it could have been. I know Bowden wanted to give Jimbo Fisher enough time to establish himself as the head coach without having to answer constant questions about replacing a legend, or having to look over his shoulder at what Bowden was saying or doing.

All of that makes sense.

But what does not make sense is the complete disassociation we have seen over the course of three years. One year is completely understandable. Time and space were needed for both sides. Three years? Just seems way too long.

Florida State would not be where it is today without Bowden. On my recent visit to Tallahassee, on a random Wednesday and Thursday in March, I saw tourists stopping by the Bowden statue in front of Doak Campbell Stadium to take photos on both days. There was no game, there was no open practice. But they knew exactly where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see.

Sure the Seminoles hit a downslide during his final years as head coach. A change had to be made. That much was obvious. The debate about whether Florida State should have let Bowden go on his own terms is old and useless at this point. Accusations were hurled, feelings were hurt. Relationships were strained or severed.

But what remains is what Bowden did for the Noles. Time has passed, perhaps wounds have been closed. Fisher has been the head coach for three years now; Bowden still lives in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are back in the national picture. Perhaps both sides felt the timing was right to have Bowden back at Doak Campbell Stadium.

So he will be there for two games this fall -- Oct. 26 against NC State and again on Nov. 16 for the homecoming game against Syracuse, when he will join members of his 1993 national championship team for a celebration of their 20th anniversary.

Something tells me Bowden will get a rousing ovation, perhaps longer and louder than the one he got when he rode off with his wife, Ann, following his final game as the Seminoles coach, Jan. 1, 2010, in Jacksonville.

It's about time.

3-point stance: Reggie Dunn's returns

November, 27, 2012
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1. Out of only 10-kickoff returns this season, Utah senior Reggie Dunn returned four for touchdowns. His last one broke a fourth-quarter tie that allowed the Utes to escape from Colorado with a 42-35 victory last Friday. As amazing as that percentage is, Dunn is four returns short of qualifying to lead the official NCAA stats. The Pac-12 coaches ignored the NCAA rule Monday and named Dunn first-team all-conference. I bet a few All-America teams ignore the NCAA rule, too.

2. On the day that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel broke the silence that Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin had imposed on him, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray went silent so he could focus on the SEC Championship Game. Presumably, Murray will speak afterward. Coaches like Sumlin who don’t let freshmen speak to the media during the season should listen to Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden. He believed that interviews are part of the maturing process. The quicker a player learns to handle them, the better.

3. If UCLA defeats Stanford on Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game, six days after losing to the Cardinal, the Bruins will earn a berth in the Rose Bowl to possibly play Nebraska nearly four months after they beat the Huskers on that same field. As odd as playing two teams twice in the same season is, here’s something even odder: UCLA has done it before. From 1943-45, when travel was restricted during World War II, UCLA played USC and California in each of the three seasons.

Gators and Noles back on national stage

November, 21, 2012
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You really have to dig deep to find the last time Florida-Florida State really meant something in the grand scheme of college football.

People were using MSN Messenger and thought Fred Durst was actually cool. TRL and trucker hats were all the craze.

It was the year 2000 and college football fans were probably carrying around a Ja Rule CD in their cars. (It’s OK. We all have our faults.)

It was also the last time Florida and Florida State met as top-10 BCS opponents.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp
AP Photo/John RaouxIf Jimbo Fisher's or Will Muschamp's team loses on Saturday, it will be eliminated from consideration for the BCS title game.
This was one of college football’s true gems. Thanks to Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden, from 1990 to 2000 these two teams met 13 times when both were ranked in the top 10, including the 1996 Sugar Bowl for the national championship. These two programs were mammoths and are Nos. 1 and 2 nationally when it comes to consecutive bowl streaks. Florida State is No. 1 (30) and Florida is second (21).

The rivalry took a bit of a nosedive when Bowden and his Noles teams fell off during the 2000s and Urban Meyer arrived at Florida. Under Meyer, the Gators won five straight, as they stayed nationally relevant, while FSU flirted with mediocrity until Jimbo Fisher took over in 2010.

But this rivalry is back, as No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) heads to Tallahassee to face No. 10 Florida State (10-1) in a game that has major BCS implications on the line.

If Florida wins, the Gators are likely BCS-bound. With some help from USC, they could back their way into the national championship game. Florida State is very much on the outside when it comes to the BCS title game, but a win and a ton of help could move the Noles closer to Miami.

The magnitude of Saturday's matchup hit the Gators well before they returned to the locker room after beating Jacksonville State.

“As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldn’t help but think about Florida State,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "If you’re a Gator, you grow up not liking Florida State. I’m sure it’s the same way with them. That’s just what you’re taught. When you go to Florida State, you’re anti-Gators. That’s just what it is.”

Outside of the BCS implications, major pride is on the line for both teams. There’s real bad blood here. Players on both sides know each other, but they refuse to talk during the regular season and usually hurl barbs at each other when they do speak during the offseason.

The hatred is still there, even if the success isn't.

The Gators are also hurting after back-to-back losses to the Noles. After winning six straight over FSU, Florida dropped the last two, getting outscored 52-14. Florida enters this weekend with an offense going backward, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is hobbled. He sprained his ankle two weeks ago.

That’s not good when you consider how good the Noles have been on defense, even without star defensive end Brandon Jenkins for basically the entire season. FSU ranks first nationally in total defense (236.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (70.6). The Noles are allowing 2.3 yards per rush and 3.7 yards per play.

In the past five games -- two of them against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State -- Florida has averaged just 278.4 yards. The Gators are near the bottom of the SEC in total offense (332.9) and are last in passing (143.4).

That doesn’t bode well for Florida, but as coach Will Muschamp continues to point out, it's all about wins, and somehow the Gators have 10 of those.

“Like I said Saturday, understand who you are and where you are, and it may not be where you want to be at times and it's frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, you've got to do what it takes to win football games and that's what we're judged on at the end of that,” Muschamp said.

While the offense has sputtered, the defense has been terrific, ranking near the top with the Noles. It can be irritating to see the offense fail, but Florida’s defenders love putting the game in their hands.

“That’s how you go into every day if you’re a great defense,” Hunter said. “You want to put everything on your shoulders. You don’t want to go into the game relying on the offense to score. You want to score on the defense. That’s what we’re taught here at Florida and that’s what we try to win by -- defense and special teams.”

Offensive issues aside, a lot is riding on Saturday. The BCS might be at the forefront of the conversation, but as far as the Gators are concerned, the only letters they’re focused on are F-S-U.

“It’s Florida-Florida State. It’s more than what’s just going on in the BCS,” Hunter said. “It’s bragging rights for the state of Florida. It’s going to be a very big game and it’s one of my favorite games to play in.”

Video: No celebrating for Bobby Bowden

July, 23, 2012
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Bobby Bowden, reacting to the sanctions levied against Penn State, said he can't celebrate owning the record for most wins in FBS history.

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