Undefeated Florida State rolls into Raleigh ranked as one of the Top 3 college football programs in the nation against a mismatched and undermanned Wolfpack team who are double digit underdogs. The Noles bring a smothering defense that possibly includes multiple All-American players and probable future NFL’ers. FSU’s offense has been pretty much clicking on all cylinders in both the running and passing game. The talent and, just as importantly, the depth the Noles bring are far superior to NCST’s and unrivaled by the rest of the ACC. Most experts expect a one-sided game with NCST having virtually no chance to upset the Seminoles.
If after reading this first paragraph you are under the impression that I am talking about the upcoming game this Saturday night against the Wolfpack, you are both mistaken and correct.
The scenario above can also describe the September 12th, 1998 game when NCST embarrassed FSU 24-7. A game which has been described by many as one of the Top 10 upsets, not just of the BCS era, but also in college football history. Not to mention, also one of the most disappointing losses in FSU’s short football history.
This familiar stage has been reset once again in 2012, almost identically as it was in 1998. Will the 1998 outcome be repeated once the game clock hits 0:00 late Saturday night? Before we discuss that, let’s take a quick historical look back at the perfect storm that brewed in Raleigh that miserable afternoon fourteen years ago.
It was the second game of the 1998 season, a season in which the Noles had National Championship expectations. Expectations which were not unreasonable at the time. FSU finished the 1997 season as the third ranked team and started the ’98 campaign as the #2 team in the country. This is remarkable considering our previous starting quarterback, Thad Busby, had graduated and there was no guaranteed clear cut successor heading into spring practice.
The lofty ranking bestowed upon FSU was done so out of respect from the media and the college coaches due to the amount of returning talent the Noles had on both sides of the ball, and FSU's recent run of national dominance. Some of the names of those returning players include Sebastian Janikowski, Corey Simon, Peter Warrick, Jason Whitaker, Laveranues Coles, Mario Edwards, Snoop Minnis, Travis Minor, Tommy Polley, Jamal Reynolds, Ron Dugans, Dexter Jackson, and the many more talented players that were on the roster.
The quarterback situation was a little fuzzy heading into spring ball, but the projected starter was expected to be Dan Kendra. Kendra unfortunately suffered what turned out to be a QB career-damaging knee injury during the spring Garnet and Gold game. With the loss of the Kendra, the battle was on between Chris Weinke, a 26 year old sophomore, a former professional baseball player but an unknown quantity at QB, and a red-shirt sophomore who had yet to throw a college pass named Marcus Outzen.
As most everyone knows Weinke was handed the keys to the FSU offense at the start of the season. Behind the running of Travis Minor, FSU dispatched Texas A&M in the 1998 Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford. FSU then started preparations for what was expected to be a fairly easy and routine conference win against the weaker N.C. State team. However, on this day the Wolfpack decided not to roll over as they and the rest of the ACC had done religiously since FSU joined the conference.
The juggernaut that was Florida State sashayed into Carter–Finley Stadium on that September afternoon with an ACC record of 47-1 since entering the conference in 1992, and having won 18 straight ACC games in a row. FSU had, after all, finished in the top four of the college polls for 11 straight years, and had won the ACC title every year, 6 straight, since joining the league. N.C. State on the other hand, had not beaten FSU since the Noles joined the league, lost to FSU the last 8 times they met, allowed FSU to average 51 points against them for the past 6 years, and they hadn’t beaten a top 2 team since 1967 with their "White Shoes Defense." (They were named the white shoes defense after Chuck Amato began polishing his shoes white, then he went out and bought white shoe polish for the rest of the defensive players to also polish their shoes white. Maybe Chuck should have stuck with white later during his coaching career instead of the red ones).
The Noles were a 25 point favorite to beat the Wolfpack, and the game started out with what the Nole faithful expected to be a common theme that afternoon.
On the first play from scrimmage, Weinke hit Peter Warrick in full stride for a 74 yard touchdown bomb. This was going to be easy. But NCST answered our TD with a field goal of their own. Hmm.
On FSU’s second series, Weinke completed a 62-yard pass to Laveranues Coles to the Wolfpack 11. WE’VE GOT OURSELVES A QUARTERBACK. However, three plays later Weinke’s wheels came off and he threw what was the first of his three first half interceptions, two of which were picked off by NCST in the end zone.
Weinke was 8-of-29 before being benched midway through the fourth quarter in favor of Outzen, but he returned one series later, just long enough to throw his sixth and final pick of the afternoon. Unfortunately, in only his second start Weinke set a FSU record, and tied an ACC record with 6 interceptions in a game.
"The bottom line is execution and I didn't execute," said Weinke. "There was stuff open that I just missed. That is the factor in the game. If I hit some of those open guys at least we have a chance to win the game.
FSU lost this game 24-7, but not just because of Weinke’s 6 picks. We need to give credit where credit is due. Torry Holt, who caught five touchdowns against the Seminoles in the previous game, burned Florida State again, scoring on a 68-yard punt return and a 63-yard pass with 9:31 left that sealed it for the Wolfpack.
"He hurt us again bad, he sure did," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "He made the plays that beat us, he and that quarterback."
"You don't expect to lose around here, that's the bottom line," Weinke added. "Every time you play somebody they are coming after us. People are looking to beat us."
DO THOSE LAST 2 SENTENCES SOUND FAMILIAR AND DO THEY STILL RING TRUE EVEN TODAY?
"To go out there and hold that offensive football team to seven points, that's miraculous, that is miraculous," said N.C. State coach Mike O'Cain, the upset easily the biggest win of his six-year career. "Nobody gave us a dog's chance of coming in here and winning this football game - NOT A PRAYER."
Even today the NCST loyal rank that upset win over FSU as the Greatest Game at Carter-Finley and one of the greatest wins in their football history. It is the highest ranked opponent the Wolfpack have ever beaten at home and the highest ranked team they had beaten since 1967, when they beat second-ranked Houston on the road.
With about 3 minutes left in the game, the Wolfpack fans began lining the sidelines. Then thousands of Wolfpack fans stormed the field with :28 seconds left to play and they climbed up onto and brought down both goal posts as time expired. Thousands of fans then carried off both of the goal posts down Hillsborough St. and back to the campus. I imagine a good time was had by all there, at our expense.
"Yeah, I'm pretty stunned," said Bowden, whose team was shutout in three straight quarters for the first time since a 31-0 loss to Miami in 1988, and trailed heading into the fourth quarter for only the third time in 49 ACC games. "To get beat like that, I'm very surprised, surprised how we fell apart."
"I doubt if anybody is out yet with one loss... but the way we played today we wouldn't even be in the top 20," Bowden said clairvoyantly after the game.
The loss would drop FSU to #11, but the Noles would bounce back from this humiliating loss and win the remainder of their games. By virtue of beating Duke, Southern California, Maryland, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Florida, coupled with losses by teams ranked ahead of us, FSU was able to jump into second place by a wide margin after beating the 4th ranked Gators for the chance to play Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. Florida State played one of the toughest schedules in the country, which guaranteed their place in the NCG over Ohio State, UCLA, and Kansas State.
Florida State lost to Tennessee in the National Championship game that year. Weinke bounced back from that disastrous outing and was having a very good year until the Virginia game when he suffered a severe neck injury and missed the rest of the season after undergoing major surgery to repair ligament damage, a ruptured disc and to remove a bone chip that was lodged against a nerve in his neck. The following year Weinke led FSU to college football's first wire-to-wire undefeated season and he would also win the Heisman Trophy in 2000. Incidentally, Chris finished with a career record of 32-3, with this game, and Miami and Oklahoma in 2000, being his only losses as the Seminole starting quarterback.
Now to answer the question I posed earlier: Will the 1998 outcome be repeated once the game clock hits 0:00 late Saturday night?
Nah, N.C. State doesn't have a prayer.
But where have I heard that before?