Date: November 5, 1988
Location: Williams-Brice Stadium; Columbia, South Carolina
Opponent: No. 15 South Carolina Gamecocks
Mike Tyson has chirped a surprising number of statements of wisdom over the years, but arguably none of his quotes have seeped into popular lexicon more than this one:
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”
In June of 1988, Michael Spinks found out the hard way exactly what Tyson meant (I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love a good excuse to watch this knockout?).
Perhaps feeling inspired by Iron Mike himself, there was a football team that was also bursting at the seems with confidence. So confident, in fact, was the 1988 Florida State football team, they released the “Seminole Rap” to tell the entire nation about their greatness.
For the first time in program history, Florida State was ranked number 1 in all the land. And then, opening the season in Coral Gables, the Seminoles came crashing back down to Earth courtesy of a 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes. Ouch.
Undeterred, FSU regrouped. Two weeks later they traveled to Death Valley and upset the 3rd ranked Clemson Tigers in a classic game featuring a couple plays who’s day in the spotlight on this list are still to come. That win proved to be a launching pad, with Florida State obliterating its next five opponents by a combined score of 217-69.
With the calendar turning to November, the ‘Noles were once again starting to receive considerable hype and had moved back into the top 5 of the AP poll. Given the nature of the “bowl and poll” era, a national title was still a realistic goal, but the voters would need to be impressed.
Standing in their path were the South Carolina Gamecocks. Long a laughingstock of college football, USCjr was enjoying one of their best seasons ever. Led by future NFL players like running back Harold Green, wide receiver Robert Brooks, and quarterback Todd Ellis, South Carolina entered the contest ranked 15th in the nation and sporting a 7-1 record, including a 23-10 victory over Vince Dooley’s Georgia Bulldogs.
Both programs were independent back then and played fairly often—with FSU typically getting the best of SCar, winning 5 of 6 matchups between 1979 and 1986. But the Gamecocks are a prideful bunch and this year they had legit NFL talent. This year it was a primetime showdown in front of a raucous crowd of more than 75,000. This year FSU had all kinds of players out with injury, including starting quarterback Chip Ferguson. This year would be different.
Everyone has a plan.
Deferring to South Carolina after winning the toss, Florida State’s defense forced a turnover on the game’s opening possession. There was a notion that FSU might play it safe early. Quarterback Peter Tom Willis was making the first start of his career and the Seminoles didn’t want to fall behind on the road the way they did against Miami to start off the season. Bobby Bowden dispelled of that notion quickly.
On FSU’s second play from scrimmage, Willis took a deep drop, pump faked, an uncorked a bomb to a streaking Terry Anthony for a 44-yard touchdown. South Carolina never recovered.
Later that quarter, FSU took a 14-0 lead on a scoop and score by Anthony Moss after a blocked punt. By halftime, spurred on by interceptions from Stan Shiver and LeRoy Butler, Florida State led 31-0. Two Lawrence Dawsey TD receptions made it 45-0 in the third and the backups were unrelenting in the 4th, capping off a 59-0 smack down. On the road. Against a top 15 team.
FSU would finish the 1988 season with blowouts over Virginia Tech and UF (featuring this early score from Dawsey and this pick-6 from Odell Haggins) before heading to the Sugar Bowl to face the Auburn Tigers.
Terry Anthony, a junior that season, led the 1988 Seminoles with 550 yards on just 32 receptions, 8 of which went for touchdowns (keep in mind that this was only an 11 game season back then and stats from bowls were not included). A member of the famed “Fab Four Receiving Corps,” Anthony finished his career with more than 1,300 yards on 79 receptions (17.4 yard average) with 17 scores. After graduating FSU, the Daytona Beach native spent two seasons playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Willis, from Morris, Alabama, moved into the full-time starting role for his senior season in 1989. And what a season it was. Willis threw for 3,124 yards and 20 TDs in 1989, setting what was then a school record for passing yards in a season. Taken in the third round of the 1990 NFL draft, Willis played four seasons for the Chicago Bears, starting three games.
But perhaps the biggest legacy to come out of this game was the Iron Mike persona FSU started to display. While FSU had previously fielded talented, top five squads (indeed, arguably the best FSU team ever took the field the year before this one), they had only just begun to intimidate opponents to the point of winning games before the helmets were even strapped up. The hay-maker landed by Peter Tom would become the first of many early round knockouts thrown by FSU over the next half-decade. Several of these plays are still to come on this countdown. However, it was this chilly night in 1988 when FSU morphed into the Mike Tyson of the college football world.