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Florida State football: Best teams to never win a title

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A few changes here and there, and some other Seminole teams might have gotten the chance at a ring.

National Champion Trophy

If there’s one thing more fun that nostalgia, it’s torturing yourself by thinking about the what-could-have-beens.

We’re ending the week by bringing that frustration into your life with a breakdown of the best Florida State teams that didn’t win a title — but could’ve.

So go ahead, read up, get super angry and sad, vote below, then feel free to yell and vent in the comment section, cause that’s what we’re here for.

1980 Florida State

Record: 10-2, Orange Bowl Champions

The 1980 season was, by any definition, a banner year for FSU. Coming off an 11-1 season in 1979, Florida State spent every single week in the national rankings, with all but three weeks inside the top 10. Monk Bonasorte and Keith Jones helped FSU defeat UF for the fourth consecutive season. And the Seminoles blitzed Dan Marino and the Pitt Panthers for a dominating home win over a legendary opponent.

After losing a close 10-9 contest to Miami earlier in the season, Florida State was still No. 2 in the country heading into its bowl game matchup against No. 4 Oklahoma.

An Oklahoma two-point conversion gave the Sooners an 18-17 win, and kept the Seminoles, then just on the verge of becoming a national name, out of legitimate title contention. The squad was named a co-champion by a smaller poll.

Fun fact: The 1980 Florida State defense allowed just 7.7 points per game, gave up just two rushing touchdowns and had a plus-23 turnover margin, forcing 22 fumbles and nabbing 18 passes.

1987 Florida State

Record: 11-1, Fiesta Bowl Champions

The 1987 Florida State Seminoles featured a stunning collection of talent. Some argue they were the best team in FSU history. The ‘87 Seminoles obliterated the Big 10 champion Michigan State Spartans, 31-3 in East Lansing. They completely overwhelmed the SEC champion Auburn Tigers, 34-6 in Jordan-Hare Stadium. They dominated the eventual national champion Miami Hurricanes for 3 quarters of play. DBU lived up to its name, as the Deion Sanders-led secondary only allowed 41.6% of opposing passes to be completed on the season. A stable of no less than five NFL running backs combined to give FSU almost a 6-yard per carry average for the season, on nearly 50 carries a game. (for reference, the team average in Dalvin Cook’s junior season was 5.1 yards per carry on 40 carries per game). Oh and linebacker Paul McGowan became the school’s first Butkus Award winner.

Yeah, this team was legit.

There’s an obvious what if here: if the Seminoles had converted their failed game-ending two-point conversion against Miami, FSU’s only loss that season.

But Tomahawk Nation’s Matt Minnick argues that the real turning point might have been at a different point during that year’s Miami game, when the secondary suffered injuries allowing the Hurricanes to exploit mismatches, rack up big passing plays and steal a win.

If FSU wins that game, there’s a great chance that they go on to tear up the rest of the schedule, as they ended up doing anyways, and, in his opinion, have a legitimate argument as one of the top five college football teams of all time.

1988 Florida State

Record: 11-1, Sugar Bowl Champions

After finishing as the No. 3 team in the country the year before, in addition to returning a plethora of talent including a one Mr. Deion Sanders for his senior year, Florida State had its best shot yet at running the table and earning its first title.

Spoiler alert: the “Seminole Rap” happened, and then the Miami loss happened.

For the rest of the season, only two teams (No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Auburn, in the Sugar Bowl) came within a touchdown of the Seminoles, as FSU put up 40 points on average a game while holding opponents to 15.

1989 Florida State

Record: 10-2, Fiesta Bowl Champions

What if Brett Favre never made his name by tearing up Florida State in the 1989 season opener?

Let’s assume that either FSU’s defense figures out the gunslinger during the game, or he accidentally threw an interception at the end instead of hitting his tight end with 12 seconds left for a game-winning touchdown. Let’s also assume that Clemson, FSU’s other loss this year, still gets a win, the Tigers’ revenge from FSU’s successful execution of the puntrooskie the year before.

Does a 1-loss FSU with wins over No. 11 Auburn, No. 2 Miami, No. 21 LSU and No. 17 Syracuse, get the title vote over 1-loss Miami?

1991 Florida State

Record: 10-2, Cotton Bowl Champions

There were levels to the obstacles in Florida State’s path to a title in 1991.

The two most obvious: the first Wide Right vs. Miami, followed up by a five-point loss the next week to Florida.

Florida State, ranked No. 1 from the jump, was cruising through the season, highlighted by a 51-31 win over No. 3 Michigan in the Big House. The Seminoles also had wins against No. 10 Syracuse and No. 23 BYU, for good measure.

The “play anyone, anywhere” mindset ended up being the initial unwraveling of Florida State that season, however, with a close-fought game against LSU in a monsoon resulting in injuries to the Seminoles’ offensive line. That wear and tear started to show as the season wore on, and finally bore its head completely in a low-scoring, 13-9 season-finale loss to Florida.

1992 Florida State

Record: 11-1, Orange Bowl Champions

Through six games of the 1992 season, Charlie Ward was literally averaging more turnovers per game on the football field than he did as starting point guard the previous year, tossing 13 INTs and just 10 TDs.

Needing to score and score quickly, Bobby Bowden put Ward in the shotgun and let him run what would later become known as the “Fastbreak Offense.” This shift away from FSU’s classic I-Formation allowed Ward to operate more in space and make use of his basketball-honed vision, not only resulting in an epic FSU comeback but also revolutionizing college football offenses almost overnight.

Another year, another potential title lost to the misplacement of a cleat on a football.

Though, if Charlie Ward hadn’t performed poorly vs. Miami in a game that resulted in the second of last-second kicking-influenced losses, then he might’ve never gotten the chance to unleash his full potential on the gridiron.

Over the last four games of the 1992 regular season, Florida State averaged nearly 53 points a game, putting up 69 on Maryland, 70 on Tulane and 45 on Florida.

1996 Florida State

Record: 11-1

This is perhaps the most frustrating missed title opportunity on this list, because of just the sheer amount of annoyingness that it contains.

The Seminoles, three years off the school’s first title, were on the verge of winning another. A hard-fought game against top-ranked Florida in the season finale vaulted FSU up to the No. 1 spot in the country heading into bowl season.

What was supposed to be a bout with Nebraska for a rematch of the 1993 title game turned into a rematch with Florida, when the No. 3 Huskers fell to unranked Texas in the first-ever Big 12 Championship game (the Big 12 stumbling over itself will never not be funny, even when it results in nightmare scenarios like this.) Florida won the rematch, its first-title and one of FSU’s only two losses in the Sugar Bowl.

In 1996, FSU had wins over five ranked opponents and held opponents to just about 11 points a game.

1997 Florida State

Record: 11-1, Sugar Bowl Champions

Another equally frustrating year, another equally as annoying reason.

Most rivalries in college football, and well, sports in general, are based over pure, simple dislike. More often than not, it’s just two brothers spatting, with the only real thing at stake being pride.

That was not the case for football schools in Florida in the 1990s and 80s, and FSU received the short end of the stick, having signed up to play both Miami and the Gators yearly. When the Seminoles finally begin to rid themselves of their Hurricane demons, Florida emerged as a new kind of antagonist, springing up in the most inconvenient of times.

Outside of a close game with Clemson that year, FSU had cruised through its schedule — up until a season-finale in Gainesville that saw Florida win in the last two minutes. Florida State would end up in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, winning 31-14 and finishing No. 3 in the final polls of the season.

2000 Florida State

Record: 11-2

For once, a missed field goal against Miami didn’t erase Florida State’s national title chances.

The Seminoles had come in ranked highly-enough that season — and, with the benefit of the doubt from the previous year’s national title — was able to remain in the title race, and end up playing Oklahoma in the national championship.

That game was an absolute gross, disgusting slopfest, ending 13-2 in favor of the Sooners.

The low-scoring total wasn’t reflective of Florida State’s offensive prowess that season, though the defensive bit holds up. That season, the Seminoles averaged 42.4 points per game, with quarterback Chris Weinke throwing for over 4,100 yards and 33 touchdowns.

2012 Florida State

Record: 11-2, Orange Bowl Champions

Now, necessarily this isn’t the most talented team to not win a title, but this was one of Florida State’s best (and easiest) shots to do so, and hypothetically, could’ve been the beginning of three-straight undefeated regular seasons.

If Florida State doesn’t lose to NC State 17-16, and manages to hold on vs. Florida in the season finale, the Seminoles hypothetically take on Notre Dame in the 2012 BCS National Championship (Alabama, the Fighting Irish’s opponent in the game, had a loss).


Best FSU team that didn’t win a title?

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845 votes total Vote Now