Some say his best coaching days are behind him, but 79-year-old Bobby Bowden is back on the sidelines for his 34th season at Florida State.
He’ll lead the Seminoles into Doak Campbell Stadium for Monday night’s opener against rival Miami, and says he won’t let his detractors or an ongoing cheating scandal divert his attention from the season.
“Definitely I want to win a national championship again,” said Bowden, who led Florida State to titles in 1993 and ’99. “I wish I could leave here on top.”
The 18th-ranked Seminoles, though, have one 10-win season (10-3 in 2003) since posting double-digit victories each year from 1987-2000. There have been calls for offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to take over for the Seminoles’ outspoken coach.
With Fisher tabbed to do that in January 2011, Bowden could find it difficult to move past Penn State’s Joe Paterno for the all-time lead in victories. That task could get even tougher with the NCAA looking to remove 14 of Bowden’s 382 wins due to an academic cheating scandal that involved 10 sports at the university from 2006-07.
Bowden was not implicated in the scandal, but losing those victories could make it very tough to catch Paterno, who led by one heading into the Nittany Lions’ season opener versus Akron on Saturday.
Florida State is appealing the NCAA’s plan to vacate victories for the athletes and coaches in the 10 sports regardless of their involvement in the scandal.
The Seminoles suspended numerous players for the 2007 Music City Bowl, which they lost 35-28 to Kentucky, and the first three games of last season due to the scandal, but are looking to move beyond the distractions.
“We had a lot of things hanging over our head,” said sophomore receiver Bert Reed, suspended three times last season. “We’re focusing on leaving that in the past.”
Florida State finished last season with a 9-4 record and defeated Wisconsin 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl - the program’s 27th consecutive bowl appearance, the longest such streak in the nation.
Junior Christian Ponder begins his second season as the Seminoles’ starting quarterback. He threw for 2,006 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2008 as Florida State posted its first nine-win season in five years.
“I’ve gotten a lot more confident,” said Ponder, who threw for 159 yards and rushed for 144 in a 41-39 victory at Miami on Oct. 4. “I think it’ll be a totally different year.”
Without last season’s leading receivers Greg Carr and Preston Parker to throw to this year, Ponder will look downfield for Reed, Jarmon Fortson and senior Richard Goodman.
Sophomore Jermaine Thomas, who averaged 7.0 yards per carry last season, looks to replace Antone Smith and his 868 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns from 2008.
While Bowden is anxious to see how his retooled offense performs, Miami is bracing for a schedule that could have it matched up with four ranked teams to open the season.
The Hurricanes host No. 15 Georgia Tech, travel to No. 7 Virginia Tech and play third-ranked Oklahoma at home in the three games following Saturday’s contest. Miami has lost 11 of 13 to ranked foes.
“I like (the schedule),” said sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris. “I can’t wait, actually.”
After splitting time last season with Robert Marve, who transferred to Purdue, Harris is the starter in 2009. He threw for 1,195 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman.
Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith were battling for the backup quarterback spot, but both asked third-year coach Randy Shannon for their release last Tuesday.
“It was kind of strange, to me,” said Shannon, who led Miami to a 7-6 record in 2008. “Both guys came in and they felt like, given the situation and what we had, it was better for them to go pursue other options.”
Freshman A.J. Highsmith, son of former Miami standout running back Alonzo Highsmith, is listed as Harris’ backup.
Junior Graig Cooper had a right ankle injury and was wearing a protective boot during the preseason, but he looks for another solid season after leading the Hurricanes in rushing in 2007 and ’08. Cooper ran for 841 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Javarris James, who has rushed for 1,670 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career, is 15 pounds lighter and primed for his senior season after missing four games in 2008 due to a high-ankle sprain in his left leg.
“They’ve got good athletes,” Bowden said. “Miami can always run.”
The Hurricanes will be without defensive end Eric Moncur (groin) and defensive backs Ryan Hill and Vaughn Telemaque due to shoulder injuries for the opener, while defensive end Adewale Ojomo might miss the entire season with a broken jaw.
Miami leads the series with Florida State 30-23, although the Seminoles have won three of the last four matchups.