There is a lot of debate over the biggest win in FSU history, but there should be no debate over the biggest back-to-back wins for the Noles.
Those occurred in 1980 – Bobby Bowden’s fifth year at Florida State.
Most remember the classic 18-14 shocker of No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln, capped by Paul Piurowski’s sack and Garry Futch’s fumble recovery (video here).
But the following week, ANOTHER No. 3 team appeared on the schedule. And while the win in Nebraska put the program on the map, the team FSU played in Tallahassee was probably the most talented FSU had ever faced..
Dan Marino’s Pitt Panthers came town. It was a rare nationally televised game for the Noles with Jim Simpson and Bud Wilkinson on the call for ESPN.
Marino was a sophomore on a team Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Bob Smizik opined: "could have been the greatest assemblage of talent to ever play the college game."
A lofty claim?
Yes, Smizik’s case is strong:
- All five Pitt lineman ended up starting in the NFL, including bookend Hugh Green and Rickey Jackson who were pretty much unblockable while Panthers (more on this later).
- Three defensive backs ended up starting in the NFL.
- The ENTIRE offensive line started in the NFL. Check out this list of names: Jimbo Covert, Mark May, Russ Grimm, Rob Fada and Ron Sams.
- So did two receivers, Marino, the fullback, the kicker and five more players that didn’t even start that year for Pitt.
That’s 23 NFL starters on one team! Seven of them were first-round draft picks.
Oh, also on that Pitt team – Sal Sunseri.
By the end of the year, Pitt would go 11-1 and finish second in the nation.
So, how did FSU and its 190-pound linebackers hand the Panthers their only loss of the season by a final of 36-22? And how did the Noles put up 36 points against a defense that held opponents to single digits in 9 of 12 games?
The answers: a classic Bowden offensive wrinkle, a killer kicking game, an opportunistic defense (including a bit of luck) and a frenzied home crowd.
I can attest to the last part – I was there, as a wide-eyed 14-year-old.
It’s so hard to convey how much energy was behind the program back then – it’s one thing to celebrate sustained success, but when years with zero or one wins are just five years in the past, the taste of success can be no sweeter.
So even though Doak seated fewer than 60,000 back then, the atmosphere was electric.
Marino struck early on a 39-yard scoring strike. That would be Pitt’s last score of the half.
Bowden unveiled a new spring draw attack to neutralize Green and Jackson – he allowed them to penetrate upfield, then quarterback Rick Stockstill would slip the ball to Platt, who found large holes to run through. For his part, Stockstill did his usually fine job of game management – FSU would have no turnovers in the game.
Bill Capece cut the lead to 7-3 with a 24-yard field goal, then Stockstill found Hardis Johnson to give FSU the lead. Stockstill found Sam Childers on another scoring strike to make it 17-7. Then Capece kicked a 43-yarder with just 37 second left in the half and it appeared the halftime margin would be 20-7 FSU. But Marino tried to get a late score was picked off by Keith Jones, who returned it 41 yards to the Pitt 33 with just 3 seconds left in the half. When Capece’s 50-yarder sailed through the uprights, it was bedlam.
I’ll never forget Capece running of the field with one finger raised at the end of the half.
In the second half, Pitt twice got to within a score, but more Capece field goals and a Stockstill-to-Unglaub scoring strike gave FSU the win.
Capece ended up making five field goals in the game. But he may not have even been the most valuable kicker in the game. Punter Rohn Stark was amazing. He had seven punts for a 48.1 average. PLUS, he only gave up 13 return yards, for a net punting average of 46.2.
Marino was picked off three times (Monk Bonasorte and Bobby Butler joined Jones with picks).
Platt ran for 123 yards on 26 carries with fullback Michael Whiting adding 52 yards on 15 carries.
Marino got his 300 yards passing, but threw three interceptions. Pitt also fumbled five times, losing four for seven total turnovers. (Remember the "luck" reference? FSU fumbled three times but lost none of them).
In the end, the Noles were outgained and outgunned, but found a way to win by running the football and going +7 in turnovers.
More than 20 years later, Bowden said this of the 1980 Pitt squad: "I've said it many times, in all my years of coaching, that Pitt team was the best college football team I have ever seen."
NOTE: Can’t write a story on 1980 without including a link to my first-even post at TN, on the 1980 FSU defense, which is CLEARLY the best defensive unit ever at FSU.