Welcome to the Sunset State: What the heck happened to football in Florida?


TAMPA — As much as this state has gone recount crazy, all the votes are in when it comes to our football weekends. They’ve given up their ghost.

They’re irrelevant.

Two weekends ago, we were stunned when, for the first time since 2011, Florida, Florida State and Miami, the Big Three, all lost on the same weekend. It was a shattering thing.

And then it happened last weekend, too.

A first for the Big Three, consecutive whiffs.

It’s what they do.

Florida is 6-3. Dan Mullen’s first year kind of went kaboom beginning with the loss to Georgia. The Gators are far from any hunt for anything after losing to Missouri, which had not won an SEC game this season until it hit Gainesville last Saturday.

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Miami just lost to Duke – at home – to fall to 5-4. Mark Richt is back to being Mark Richt again, a year removed from CFP rumblings.

Florida State will be laid upon the sacrificial altar Saturday night in South Bend against No. 3 Notre Dame. Remember when we looked forward to that game? Now Willie Taggart and his 4-5 Seminoles are hoping for the upset. If you see Touchdown Jesus with his arms folded, forget it.

Meanwhile, USF, now 7-2, but fading, travels to cold, cold Cincinnati, where Charlie Strong and his Bulls are sure to freeze up.

We could talk about Lan Kiffin’s 4-5 FAU Owls, who aren’t a story anymore, even after they pounded Butch Davis and his 6-3 FIU Panthers. Since when does beating FIU merit a headline?

All we really have is UCF, 8-0 and possibly heading for another pretend national championship.

Pretend national championships.

That is what we’re down to here, that is the state of football in this state.

Things don’t get much better when we set our sights on Sunday, our NFL nightmares.

The Dolphins are 5-4, but not serious playoff contenders. The only reason any of us thought of the Dolphins last week was that the Rams, the NFL’s last unbeaten team, were beaten last Sunday. We waited for the clinking of champagne glasses from members of the proud, perfect 1972 Dolphins (note: 46 years ago). But I read somewhere there was no reunion. The guys live too far part. They just phoned each other. The Dolphins don’t even have the common decency to know the right way to live in the past

Then there are the Jacksonville Jaguars, a sexy preseason pick for the AFC title this season, what with their defense and all. I know I was all in. Now I’m all out. The Jags are 3-5 and clawing at each other, a total mess.

Last, and certainly least, are the Bucs, the biggest mess of all, registering on Geiger counters all over the state. Their No. 1 draft pick and franchise QB is sliding toward oblivion and with him this franchise. At 3-5, the Bucs can still win Sunday against Washington. Lucky fans should get Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht to sign the box scores.

What happened here?

Where did it all go?

We’re talking about perfect seasons from a half century ago. The Bucs’ 2002 Super Bowl win is a distant memory.

It’s worse with the colleges. This state was once The Land of the Giants. You couldn’t put out a self-respecting AP poll without Miami, FSU and Florida in the Top Ten. The Sunshine State was football heaven.

Remember when Miami and Florida State were astride college football? Remember when Steve Spurrier arrived? The party was on. This state was the place to be every Saturday. We thought it would never end.

Well, it ended.

We’re left with sad excuses for football weekends. Can Miami win at Georgia Tech today? Can Florida beat South Carolina? Can FSU make it season and upset Notre Dame?

Better question: Do we care?

Here in the Sunshine, sunset is on the march.

FSU might be down to trying to make its season by beating Florida, especially if it shut out of the bowls with a seventh loss before then. USF is down to the UCF game to make its season. UCF is down to enduring another season of having its title claims fall on deaf ears. The chance of a UCF-Florida Peach Bowl might be all we have left.

It’s a rotten place to be for this state. It seems like just yesterday that Florida and Florida State were playing for a national title. Or Miami was what Alabama is today. Or Tim Tebow was leading the Gators to another championship. Or Jameis Winston had FSU on top of college football. Was that really just five years ago?

A quarter century ago, in 1993, the Florida State of Bobby Bowden and Charlie Ward and Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn played Notre Dame up there. It was a classic, the game of the century, so called, and FSU lost, and it didn’t even keep the Seminoles from winning the national championship.

That was how it was once upon a time.

You couldn’t keep this state down for long.

Man, I miss it. I do miss it so.

FSU is a three-score underdog Saturday, even with Notre Dame missing its starting quarterback.

This would make Taggart and the Seminoles season.

Sunset is a prohibitive favorite over Sunshine.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029

Source : https://www.tampabay.com/sports/2018/11/09/welcome-to-the-sunset-state-what-the-heck-happened-to-football-in-florida/