1976 FSU vs. Oklahoma -- the true beginning of the Bowden era

This will come nowhere to matching Frank's indefatigable treatise story on the 1965 FSU-Oklahoma game, but
it is another humble foray into Seminole history tied to this week's opponent, Oklahoma.

For an opponent FSU has played on a handful of times, Oklahoma holds a special (and often dark) place in the hearts of many Seminoles. Orange Bowl losses to end the 1979, 1980 and 2000 seasons still sting.

Yet it is the seemingly innocuous 1976 battle which holds often overlooked historical significance.

1976 was Bobby Bowden's first season at FSU and his only losing season (thank you Greg Reid and EJ Manuel) as the Seminoles head coach. FSU finished 5-6 -- a record that seemed just a pipe dream after a sloppy road loss to Memphis in the season-opener and an embarrassing 47-0 shellacking at the hands of Miami, which scored on its first 10 possessions.

The Bowden era was hardy looking like a dynasty-in-the-making.

And next up was No. 4 Oklahoma in Norman.

OUCH!

It was time for drastic action and Bowden was ready.

"If we were going to get beat, let's get the young guys ready," Bowden said. (**NOTE: Please see comment on this quote at bottom of this piece)

Bowden inserted six freshman in the starting lineup: wide receivers Kurt Unglaub and Jackie Flowers; defensive end Scott Warren; offensive guard Mike Good; fullback Mark Lyles and defensive tackle Walter Carter.

Incredibly, all six of these freshman would "stick" -- going on to have terrific four-year careers at FSU.

Now, to the game .... 

    I couldn't find a betting line for this game, but I'm sure Oklahoma was favored by more than 30 points. After all, FSU had only won 4 of its last 24 games and was 0-2 on the season and Oklahoma was a dominant force in college football.

    But the Sooners would fall far short of that spread. Despite a big early run from running back Kenny King, Oklahoma settled for a field goal on its first possession. FSU answered with a shocking 80-yard drive capped by a 5-yard Larry Key touchdown to take a 6-3 lead. The Sooners answered to lead 10-6 but FSU responded, driving to the 1 before Key fumbled through the end zone for a touchback.

   Oklahoma seemed ready to blow out the Noles with a second-quarter touchdown to take a 17-6 lead at the intermission.

    But Bowden went to an unbalanced line in the third quarter and, despite two more FSU turnovers, Dave Cappelen atoned for a missed extra point by hitting a field goal to cut the lead to one score -- 17-9.

   FSU got the ball back in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, but could not put points on the board. A late Sooner TD made the final 24-9. The close margin was particularly stunning because FSU lost the turnover battle -- the Noles fumbled five times, losing three and threw an interception. The Sooners had one fewer turnover.

    Here are two paragraphs from Bill McGrotha's "Seminoles! The First Forty Years" which describe the magnitude of the game:

   "A game in which Florida State seemed to have no chance was one it might have won. Reiterating his distaste for moral victories, Bowden added: 'These things are forgotten.'

    "But this one would not be. The effort at Oklahoma -- the days those six freshman started -- is remembered as a significant Bowden turning point."

   FSU went on to win five of its last eight games -- losing only to Florida, Auburn and Clemson -- to finish 5-6. And the rest is history.

    **SPECIAL COMMENT: The quote from Bowden on "getting the young guys ready" is, of course, ironic when juxtaposed against the end of his reign tenure. Last year, with Bowden's career in the rear-view mirror, not ahead of him, Bowden chose to play more experienced but athletically inferior players over more talented underclassmen. Wouldn't it be nice if the Jenije at safety experiment had been conducted last year (even given the lousy coaching he was receiving)?

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