The case for FSU's dynasty

At Florida State, Bobby Bowden orchestrated one of college football's all-time forces. Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Fourteen consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more.

Fourteen consecutive top-five finishes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Two national championships.

Nine consecutive conference titles.

Two Heisman Trophy winners.

If Florida State's unprecedented performance in the 1990s isn't considered a modern-day college football dynasty, then what program can possibly be remembered as one?

The Seminoles didn't win back-to-back national championships like Nebraska did in 1994-95, a feat No. 2 Alabama has a chance to duplicate when it plays No. 1 Notre Dame in the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship in Miami.

Florida State didn't win as many national championships (two) in the 1990s as Miami did in the 1980s (three), but no program played as well for as long as the Seminoles did in the '90s.

Over the course of 14 seasons from 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles had a 152-19-1 record, winning 88 percent of their games. FSU won national championships in 1993 and 1999 and finished No. 2 twice and No. 3 five times.

During the 1990s alone, FSU had a 109-13-1 record, the most victories by any team during a decade. Only Oklahoma during the 1950s won a higher percentage of its games (89.5 percent) during one decade than Florida State did during the '90s (88.6 percent).

A season with two losses was considered a hiccup during FSU's stretch of dominance.

"You have to do it year after year after year," said former FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who is major college football's all-time winningest coach with 377 victories. "That's what makes a dynasty. You can't do it in two years. You can't do it in three years. It has to be for a long time."

The 1987 FSU team finished 11-1, which started 14 consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories, the longest such streak in college football history. The Seminoles finished in the top five of the final Associated Press Top 25 poll every season from 1987 to 2000. After joining the ACC in 1992, FSU won its first 29 conference games and didn't lose to a league foe until a 33-28 defeat at Virginia on Nov. 2, 1995. FSU won ACC titles in each of its first nine seasons in the league.

"The thing that makes you a dynasty is accomplishing something that sets you apart from every other program, doing something that puts you a step above everyone else," Bowden said. "We won more games in the 1990s than anyone has ever won in a decade."

If the Seminoles had won only a couple of more games, there certainly would be no debate about their designation as a modern-day dynasty. While Bowden led FSU to two national championships, becoming the first team to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country in 1999, the Seminoles endured a handful of other near misses.

In-state rival Miami was largely the reason FSU didn't win more crystal trophies. In 1987, FSU's only loss was a 26-25 defeat to the Hurricanes. The next season, the Seminoles were ranked No. 1 in the preseason but lost to Miami 31-0 in their opener. Miami beat FSU seven times in eight seasons from 1985 to 1992, with many of those losses costing the Seminoles a chance to play for the national championship.

"If we could have kicked the ball straight," Bowden said. "If we'd kicked it straight, we would have a few more championships."

FSU's most famous loss to Miami came in 1991, when the No. 1 Seminoles lost to the No. 2 Hurricanes 17-16 after FSU kicker Gerry Thomas' 34-yard field goal try sailed wide right with 29 seconds to play. The play infamously became known as "Wide Right." The next season, FSU lost to Miami 19-16 when Dan Mowrey missed a 39-yard field goal wide right on the final play.

"As good as we were, we didn't win a national championship until 1993, mainly because we kept losing to Miami on missed kicks," Bowden said. "I used to get mad because nobody else would play Miami. Notre Dame would play them, then drop them. Florida dropped them. Penn State dropped them. We would play Miami and lose by one point on a missed field goal, and it would knock us out of the national championship.

I didn't want to play them, either, but I had to play them. That's why I said, 'When I die, they'll say, 'At least he played Miami.'"

Florida State finally broke through with a 28-10 victory over Miami in 1993. The Seminoles lost at No. 2 Notre Dame 31-24 in their 10th game but recovered to beat NC State and Florida to end the regular season with an 11-1 record. Bowden won his first national championship when No. 1 FSU defeated No. 2 Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles won the game after Cornhuskers kicker Byron Bennett's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left on the final play.

FSU defeated Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1999 national championship. The Seminoles played in the first three national championship games in the BCS era, losing to Tennessee 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl in 1998 and 13-2 to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in 2000.

"Even after you win one, the pressure continues to build," Bowden said. "You win and win and win, and then pressure continues to build. You must win the next week and then win the next week. I know one thing: It's easier to get to the top than it is to stay there."

Especially when it's for so long.