I apologize in advance for the misleading title. Of course, the outcome of the Florida State football game against Savannah State is not in doubt. The Tigers are the worst team Florida State has played in my lifteime, and perhaps my father's as well.
But given the poor slate of Week 2's games, and the spotlight on this game, can the Seminoles emerge victorious in the court of public opinion with a jury of its fanbase and national media? It's going to be tough. There are a few things FSU can do to minimize the focus on this game, and avoid the problem in the future. And as you'll read, some of this was out of FSU's hands.
Problems With The Game
There are several problems with this game. Some we've noted in the past, and others are newer.
Oklahoma State pulling its starters in the first quarter and still beating the Tigers 84-0 last week brought a lot of attention and did not help the perception of this game. I think everyone knew the Tigers would be bad. But that bad? There are junior colleges in the Mississippi circuit that could beat Savannah State.
So bad are the Tigers that this game has now set the record for the largest point spread in recorded history. That's bad news and PR that FSU doesn't want or need. It doesn't want attention drawn to this game.
Another thing that makes this game look worse than it perhaps is, is last week's contest against Murray State. That makes two 1-AA games in as many weeks.
There's a problem with playing two 1-AA games. And that problem is perception. Is Murray State that much worse than the worst 1-A program? Certainly not. But for lazy sportswriters, the argument against Florida State that the Seminoles played two 1-AA teams is an easy line to trumpet. That's true regardless of whether FSU's other non-conference games are against Florida and USF, which was picked by some to win the Big East. Writers' arguments sway votes, even if the AP poll is now meaningless. From a reputation standpoint, it's best to avoid playing two 1-AA games.
Another issue is that the Seminoles are playing four home games in as many weeks in September. Given the exorbitant prices charged by hotels, the cost of gas, and the economy, it's real tough for families to justify making all four trips. And the one they'll skip is this game. And that's not even factoring in the USF game in Tampa following the four home games. Good luck selling your wife five trips in 36 days.
There's also not much Florida State can gain from this game on the field. FSU is going to be so physically superior to the Tigers that even poorly executed plays could be huge gainers.
The game is not without any benefit, however. Let's review the few positives about this week's contest.
First, playing this game affords the starters an opportunity to avoid injury. This isn't because a player is less likely to be injured on any given play against Savannah State, but rather because the starters will play far fewer snaps than they would have against a good team because FSU is going to blow the door off the Tigers. It's simple math. A car parked in a garage doesn't crash.
That's basically it. I guess you can count seeing the young stars of the last two ridiculous recruiting classes if you really need a second benefit.
How To Make It Work, Sort Of
The goals against Savannah State are to get the starters out early after getting some work in, and avoid drawing attention to the game via not having a ridiculous score.
The first will happen automatically because Savannah State is that bad.
The second will take some planning. Once the starters are out (and maybe even when they're in), the Seminoles need to make sure they're snapping the ball with 3, 2 or 1 second(s) left on the play clock. There's no running clock in college football, but FSU can effecively institute one via its own methodology. Running backs should be instructed to stay in bounds to keep the clock running. If this game is played in 2:30 or less, there's a good chance the score will be in the 60s or 70s. That's OK. Good teams crush teams by 60 or 70 pretty regularly. But throw up an 80 or a 90! (FSU could easily score 100+ if it wanted), and FSU will be one of the early stories on Sportscenter in a week that features very few marquee matchups.
Avoiding This Mess In the Future, The Financials, Measuring The PR Hit & Possible Alternatives
I'll grant Florida State that the scheduling this game is not entirely its fault. It was the replacement for West Virginia pulling out due to its nine-game conference schedule following the move to the Big XII.
FSU's argument seems to be that it could not find a better game than Savannah State. That's probably true, given the constraints FSU apparently hard. Those include: not wanting to move around certain games, not wanting to play a home-and-home, and being cheap.
Two of those are OK.
FSU's schedule sets up very nicely for a conference or national title run. Not wanting to mess with that is understandable.
And not wanting to do a home-and-home is the correct stance. FSU already has a standing home-and-home with Florida. Playing another sets up the possibility of only having six home games in a given year -- an untennable financial position as head coach Jimbo Fisher has often pointed out, considering the road team makes zero dollars from the trip.
But the third issue is a tougher sell in my book. FSU is paying Savannah State less than $1/2-million. If (and I stress if because I don't know for sure) FSU was trying to get a game for that super cheap price, that was indeed a mistake. The going rate to bring in a bottom o' the barrel D1 football team is somewhere between $900K-$1.2M. We're talking two or almost three times what FSU paid Savannah State.
Florida State can say it called every team in the book, but if it was offering a number anywhere close to what it is paying to bring in Savannah State, it could have saved some time and not even picked up the phone. For that price, the answer was going to be NO.
Granted, given the late nature of West Virginia's pullout, other teams had the Seminoles over a barrell. They could demand closer to $1.3M than $800K. Still, the WVU pullout was not a surprise, as the Mountaineers' administration had been stating its intentions for months before the staring contest ended. FSU probably could have done more to bring in a slightly better opponent.
And one has to ask, aside from the PR hit FSU is going to take from playing this game, would it have been financially better to bring in a team like Troy, Florida Atlantic or Louisiana Lafayette? I'm not so sure.
FSU is probably going to sell a little north of 60,000 tickets for this game. Butts in the seats should crest 50,000. How much better would those numbers be if the opponent was Troy or FAU? 7-10,000 better? Maybe?
Let's say it would have netted 8,000 extra tickets sold. At face value of $40, that's $320,000. An extra $320,000 isn't nearly enough above $475,000 to bring in a team like Troy or FAU. So no, FSU would not be much better off financially by bringing in a low-level D1 opponnent.
But the loss here isn't financial as compared to reasonable alternatives. It's in the court of public opinion.
Does it make sense to bring in an opponent like Troy to avoid the PR hit if it means netting $3-400K less? That's for each fan to decide. Florida State certainly doesn't have millions hanging out in its account.
There is one thing FSU could have done to make this game a bit more palatable, perhaps:
A game like this could definitely work if it was played later in the year, say before UF comes to down. Teams like Auburn, Alabama and Florida have all brought in a 1-AA patsy before their big end-of-season non-conference game in recent years. Perhaps FSU should try that in the future.