Today Bob Thomas tackles our question about what FSU football will look like, vis-a-vis up-and-coming in-state schools, ten years from now. Bob covers the Noles for The Florida Times-Union, and we highly recommend his blog "Whataboutit Bob?"
Q: With the rise of USF and UCF -- and even younger programs like FAU and FIU -- do you see FSU keeping a competitive edge over younger rivals? Or will those schools in larger markets pull even with or surpass the Noles in strength of program and ability to recruit Florida's best?
Bob Thomas: Imagine, a half-filled Doak Campbell Stadium on a Saturday afternoon with Florida State squaring off against ACC juggernaut Wake Forest, while four hours to the South, USF is playing UConn before an SRO Raymond James Stadium crowd. Just up I-4, Bright House Networks Stadium is bulging at the seams with fans as SMU visits UCF.
Now, pinch yourself.
Envisioning the day when FSU is no longer considered one of the state's "Big Three" in college football is incomprehensible, at least for this middle-aged sports writer. Still, it's an interesting concept to consider.
As the neophyte program among the state's "Big Three" at 62 years of age, Florida State long ago shed its girls' school image to become one of the nation's perennial football powers, thanks in no small part of Bobby Bowden. Without him, Tallahassee may have never evolved into one of the sports great outposts.
Though Bowden's days are numbered, what he's been able to accomplish - the 14-year dynasty run, two national championships, two Heisman winners and countless contributors to the NFL - has virtually assured FSU a permanent place in the consciousness of college football fans. While the Seminoles' relevance as a player on the national championship scene has waned in recent seasons, the program continues to attract quality players and maintain its essential television presence.
Beyond the Yankees, Red Sox, Lakers and Celtics, there are few franchises that can match or eclipse the passionate support for college football (and basketball) teams steeped in rich tradition. That appears to be true even at a time when parity has trickled down from the pro ranks.
It's why Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska and Southern Cal have all survived down-turns over time, and it's why FSU will stay ahead of in-state schools of similar or greater size - like USF and UCF - into the foreseeable future.
While the Bulls and Knights have some economic advantages (enrollment, population density) due to their locales, they are swimming against the stream in an effort to pull even with the likes of FSU, Miami and Florida. While parity has enabled Fresno State, Tulane and Rutgers - schools from football-rich states located in densely populated areas - to leave their marks nationally over the last decade or so, they have failed to display any real staying power in the nation's consciousness.
The same parity that has enabled USF to make a splash both nationally and in the Big East, works against the Bulls in their attempt to come anywhere close to duplicating FSU's unprecedented run of 10-win campaigns, which put the 'Noles on the map to stay.
That's not to say Jim Leavitt won't ever get the Bulls to that point. You never, say never.
When I arrived in Florida 20 years ago there were exactly six colleges or universities playing football, evenly divided between the I-A and I-AA levels. That number has doubled with the arrival of USF, FAU, FIU, Jacksonville, Edward Waters and Webber on the grid scene. It's not far-fetched to imagine Florida Gulf Coast, UNF and West Florida joining the fray. And, for several years there has been discussion of introducing football at the state junior college level. One can only imagine that the idea of reintroducing the game has been bandied about at schools like Stetson and Florida Southern, or starting fresh at Nova Southeastern or Flagler.
As natural resources go, football talent might run a close second to the water that surrounds our peninsula. At some point, however, over-saturation will become a problem.
Competition for the entertainment dollar has never been higher, which is already an issue for programs young and old. Then there's the growing burden of financing higher education in the state, which potentially threatens to sap the financial resources necessary to build a football giant.
Those are burdens Bowden and the 'Noles never faced in the process of establishing a legacy; a legacy that will remain unrivaled beyond the scope of the "Big Three" at least in my lifetime.