One of the more memorable scenes from “The Office” happens in the series finale when Ed Helms’ character Andy Bernard says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days,’ before you’ve actually left them.”
For the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Florida State Seminoles, they both find themselves in uncharted waters. In the last 30 years, these teams have been staples of the college football scene. Especially in the 1990s, both were national title regulars. The 1993 season brought both teams together in the Orange Bowl, to play for the national title. Florida State was the No. 1 in the nation, despite losing on Nov. 13 to Notre Dame in a contest that was dubbed the “Game of the Century.”
In the Orange Bowl, Nebraska had the lead with 1:16 remaining. However, Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward marched his team down the field, and set up the go-ahead field goal with 21 seconds left. Nebraska, led by quarterback Tommy Frazier, got the Huskers down to the FSU 28-yard line—setting up a game winning field goal on the final play of the game. That field goal would sail off course.
Did I criminally skim that Orange Bowl? You bet I did. You could make a whole documentary based on the lead-up and outcome of the game. But for this purpose, getting the CliffNotes will suffice. The main point isn’t to talk about that game, but to remind ourselves what these two teams were capable of doing. Both have obviously had successes since, but they sure feel like a long time ago after the first few weeks of the season.
Today, both these teams will be lucky to make it to a bowl game. That’s a far cry from a national title game. This season, both programs have new head coaches steering the ship of their respective programs. Scott Frost is at Nebraska, and Willie Taggart is at Florida State. Both have taken some very bad Ls already in the early season.
After the season opener against Akron was scrapped because of weather, the Huskers are still winless after Week 3. Losses to Colorado and Troy hurt, especially when you have a 9-game gauntlet in the Big Ten still to come. Frost will have to lead his team into road matchups with Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. His team will be a massive underdog in all three of those games, with the OSU game having the potential to be close-your-eyes-and-turn-off-the-TV-at-halftime bad.
Next week, the Huskers travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. for the matchup with the Wolverines. This is a redeemer for UM quarterback Shea Patterson, who was stifled in the first game of the season against Notre Dame. A good game from him puts the Wolverines back on track. Unfortunately for the Huskers, a loss puts them into a freighting 0-3 hole with still another week to go in September. Making up the Akron game may have seemed like a bizarre idea at first, but the Huskers may actually need it if they want to make a bowl game; six wins is six wins, no matter what you have to do to earn them.
The Taggart experience in Tallahassee isn’t going much better. After a Week 1 loss to Virginia Tech, social media began chirping a conspiracy claiming fake injuries by the Hokies were throwing off the FSU tempo on offense.
Personally, when I heard that quarterback Deondre Francois was named the starter, I changed my preseason Heisman prediction to the Seminoles’ signal-caller. I thought the ‘Noles would probably go 8-4, but Francois’ comeback season would be good enough for him to snag the Heisman Trophy.
I honestly believed that he was going to have a better year than Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, and that he would be one of the best QBs in FBS. Even after struggling with Samford, I thought 10 good games would get him an invite to New York. Then after just seeing the Syracuse score— a 30-7 loss— I finally came to terms with reality: Francois is not going to win the Heisman.
If the offensive line can’t hold their own next week, then there’s a realistic chance that Northern Illinois “upsets” Florida State.
You don’t realize it at the time, but there are defining moments in each program’s history that set them on a certain path. For Nebraska, it may seem like one of those moments was when Tom Osborne decided to retire from coaching after the perfect 1997 season. It wasn’t. The defining moment for the Huskers came in the 2002 Rose Bowl after they got obliterated by the Miami Hurricanes’ NFL-grade machine.
While Florida State has won a title in the post-Bobby Bowden era, the blowout loss in the 2015 Rose Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal to Oregon fundamentally changed the program. The Noles’ haven’t been back to the CFP since, and Jimbo Fisher, the coach that won a national title in 2014 with FSU, departed for a big-money deal to coach Texas A&M in December 2017.
To bring this conversation back home, Ohio State has seeming made every right coaching move (at least for the head position) when things began to look bleak. They got Jim Tressel after John Cooper, and they got Urban Meyer after Jim Tressel. At some point, the machine won’t spit out jackpot— but you ride the wave until it ends.
Just look at a Michigan. That program hasn’t been the same since the 2006 “Game of the Century” meeting with the Buckeyes. Since Lloyd Carr left, TTUN hasn’t found a coach that could live up to the expectations set during the Carr era; even Alabama had a run of Dennis Franchione, Mike Price, and Mike Shula as head coach over a six-year period.
Winning games in major college football is hard; consistently winning games is even harder. And at some point, even for those programs that consistently won for decades, there will be pockets of time that take you out of the good ole’ days. You just hope it doesn’t last forever.