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Matchup History: Florida State as an 0-1 football team

How did FSU fare the other 20 seasons they lost the opener?

Florida State v Clemson Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Each week, we’ll be diving into the past history between FSU and their upcoming opponent. Since the Noles are on a bye this weekend, let’s take a look at the how they have responded to starting the season with a loss in the past.

Last Saturday, the Florida State Seminoles football team dropped their fourth straight season opener to Georgia Tech 16-13. No one knows how the rest of 2020 will play out, but FSU still has a chance to rebound from the loss with a successful season- it has happened plenty of times in the Noles’ history.

Two of the greatest examples of bouncing back from a season-opening loss, not only in Florida State history but in college football history, occurred in Tallahassee in the late ‘80’s.

Bobby Bowden’s 1988 and 1989 star-studded early dynasty teams completely flipped the script: the old adage of “being a different team in November” was never truer than in these back-to-back seasons. The pain from a horrifying 31-0 blowout to the defending champion Miami Hurricanes and a head-scratching 30-26 loss to the baby-Favre Southern Miss Eagles was wiped away with classic 11-1 and 10-2 seasons.

By the end of both 1988 and 1989, FSU was ranked third in the country and Nole faithful were reveling in New Year’s Day bowl wins over national powers Auburn and Nebraska.

Whatever Bowden and the program altered to perform better in season openers moving forward worked and then some- FSU cruised to win their first game the next 14 seasons.

The next time Florida State’s then-dominant train skidded off the tracks to start the year was the 2004 season. FSU had revenge on their mind when they faced Miami in the Hurricanes’ first game as a member of the ACC, a battle of preseason AP top-five teams and a rematch of the Orange Bowl the previous year. Noles led 10-0 at halftime when Antonio Cromartie scooped up a fumble and raced 61 yards down the right sideline for a defensive score.

However, eerily similar to this past Saturday, Miami hung around and stung Florida State late in a 16-10 overtime heartbreaker. Although 2004 is considered firmly within “lost decade” territory, spending the entire season with a top-15 ranking and finishing with a 9-3 record hardly seems pedestrian in retrospect.

In 2007 and 2009, FSU finished 7-6 after being ranked in the top 20 of the polls to start both seasons. One-possession losses to Clemson in 2007 and Miami in 2009 stunted the chance for top-notch seasons, but it is worth noting the Noles did rally somewhat even in those “down” seasons (winning 3 of the last 5 games in 2007 and 4 of the final 6 in 2009 to keep one of the best bowl streaks in history alive).

Miami v Florida State Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

While 2009 was the end of the line for the legendary Bowden, you would have to go back to the very first year of existence for the modern football program for a complete look at every time FSU dropped the season opener. Miring in the early stages of building a program, Florida State had down years after losing the first game in 1947 and 1952.

But during the team’s rise to legitimacy in the 1950’s and 1960’s, season-opening losses rarely knocked the team off course. Versatile Lee Corso and the 1954 Noles lost 14-0 to Georgia to start the year but still went 8-4 and won the Sun Bowl in FSU’s first season recognized as a “major college football team”.

In 1967, Bill Peterson’s pass-happy Seminoles got shut out the first three quarters of the opener against Houston and lost 33-13. NCAA Consensus All-American flanker Ron Sellers and the rest of the 1967 team responded with a strong 7-2-2 record, and the very next game after the opening loss FSU tied #2 Alabama (in one of the better single-game performances in school history).

FSU lacked competent coaching in 1973, 1974 and 1975, and the fallout from losing Peterson to the NFL’s Houston Oilers caused them to not only lose their first games those years but many, many games. (they went just 4-28 overall in the three-year span).

Bowden changed everything in 1976, despite dropping his first game as head coach to Memphis 21-12. FSU even lost the next game to Miami 47-0. But the rest of that highly-encouraging 5-6 rebuilding season, including eking out the final 3 games by a total of 11 points, catapulted FSU to success in the future.

Out of the 20 times Florida State has been defeated in the opener, ten of the teams finished .500 or better. Jimbo Fisher lost his first and only opener in a 24-7 marquee matchup in Atlanta, but Odell Haggins took over as interim coach to right the ship and lead FSU to a winning season. Obviously, the 2018 and 2019 teams under Willie Taggart fell on the wrong end of that spectrum.

The current 2020 Noles will look to reverse that recent trend as they continue the season next week against rival Miami.

Year-by-year results:

1947: finished 0-5

1952: finished 1-8-1

1953: finished 5-5

1954: finished 8-4

1959: finished 4-6

1965: finished 4-5-1

1966: finished 6-5

1967: finished 7-2-2

1973: finished 0-11

1974: finished 1-10

1975: finished 3-8

1976: finished 5-6

1988: finished 11-1

1989: finished 10-2

2004: finished 9-3

2007: finished 7-6

2009: finished 7-6

2017: finished 7-6

2018: finished 5-7

2019: finished 6-7

Check back next week for Matchup History: Miami