December 7, 1998
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – Florida State coach Bobby Bowden loves to come to
Arizona. He’s always won here.
This time, Bowden said, his Seminoles “came in through the back door,”
earning a spot against unbeaten Tennessee in the Jan. 4 Fiesta Bowl national
championship game when previously unbeaten UCLA and Kansas State were both
upset on Saturday.
Florida State (11-1) finished second to the Vols (12-0) in the complicated
Bowl Championship Series ratings system, setting up only the second meeting
between the two southeastern powers.
“Things worked out for us. We’re lucky,” Bowden said, “and yet there are
several other teams that probably deserve to be in there maybe as much as we
The clamor for a playoff system will get louder, Bowden predicted, “and I’m
getting to where I think we ought to have a four-team playoff.”
Until that happens, the BCS format will have to do, and Fiesta organizers
are elated to have the championship game between the unbeaten Volunteers and a
once-beaten Florida State team with a colorful coach and a history of success
Bowden’s Florida State teams are perfect at Sun Devil Stadium, beating
Nebraska in the 1988 and 1990 Fiesta Bowls and Arizona State in regular-season
games in 1983 and 1984.
The Seminoles did lose the first Fiesta Bowl, 45-38 to Arizona State in
1971, but that was before Bowden was coach.
Although they aren’t far apart geographically, Tennessee and Florida State
have played each other only once, a 10-0 victory by Florida State in Knoxville
on Oct. 25, 1958.
Of the four bowl games that are part of the BCS, the Fiesta had it easiest
of all. Organizers, assured of No. 1 vs. No. 2, avoided the hand-wringing
selection process that left fourth-ranked Kansas State out of the “big four”
“I think my 3-year-old and 6-year-old could sell America a championship
game like this,” Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. “You really
don’t have to be that good of a manager to make this one work.”
Florida State had to climb back into the national title picture after a 24-7
loss to North Carolina State in the second game of the season. After the
Seminoles beat Florida 23-12 on Nov. 21, “we had to just sit back and wait,”
Fittingly enough for a bowl with Tostitos as the sponsor, Fiesta Bowl
president Herman Frazier said he and the other Fiesta officials waited “for
the chips to fall where they may.”
They fell perfectly for the Seminoles when UCLA lost to Miami 49-45 and
Kansas State lost to Texas A&M 36-33 in double overtime on Saturday.
Bowden, who said he wasn’t sure of the Fiesta bid until he was told of it
five minutes before ABC’s selection show, loves to come to Tempe.
The Volunteers, whose only Fiesta Bowl appearance was a 42-17 loss to Penn
State in 1992, are in the national title game a year after Peyton Manning
completed his final college season and became the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick.
“It’s gratifying as a coach to achieve this after losing so many people, so
many players who are on NFL rosters,” coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The two teams, known for their defense, are missing major offensive weapons.
Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke is certainly out for the Jan. 4 game,
and Fulmer said it is “highly unlikely” that running back Jamal Lewis will be
sufficiently recovered from a knee injury.
Tennessee also won’t have offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who left
after Saturday night’s game to take over as head coach at Mississippi.
“I don’t think it will be a distraction. I think we’ll be able to go along
about our business and be fine,” Fulmer said.
Manning happened to be in the same hotel as the Vols team on Saturday
because the Indianapolis Colts were in town to play Atlanta on Sunday. He and
his old coach had a chance for a brief conversation.
“He is probably the most excited person around about the success we’ve had
this year,” Fulmer said. “Peyton certainly set a standard here and got us on
After Manning’s pep talk with the coach, the Vols had to earn their shot at
the title game, while Bowden watched it all unfold from his Tallahassee living
“I’ve never accomplished so much doing nothing,” Bowden said, “as I did
yesterday sitting on the couch.”