Blues wave swamps the state

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - MARTIN FENNELLY mfen­nelly@tam­pabay.com

TAMPA — As much as this state has gone re­count crazy, all the votes are in when it comes to our foot­ball week­ends. They’ve given up their ghost.

They’re ir­rel­e­vant.

Two week­ends ago, we were stunned when, for the first time since 2011, Florida, Florida State and Mi­ami, the Big Three, all lost on the same week­end.

It was a shat­ter­ing thing.

And then it hap­pened last week­end, too.

That was a first for the Big

Three, con­sec­u­tive whiffs.

It’s what they do.

Florida is 6-3. Dan Mullen’s first year kind of went ka­boom be­gin­ning with the loss to Ge­or­gia two weeks ago. The Ga­tors are far from be­ing in any hunt for any­thing af­ter los­ing to Mis­souri, which had not won an SEC game this sea­son un­til it hit Gainesville last Satur­day.

Mi­ami lost to Duke last week — at home — to fall to 5-4. Mark Richt is back to be­ing Mark Richt again, a year re­moved from CFP rum­blings.

Florida State will be laid upon the sac­ri­fi­cial al­tar tonight in South Bend against No. 3 Notre Dame. Re­mem­ber when we looked for­ward to that game? Now Wil­lie Tag­gart and his 4-5 Semi­noles are hop­ing for the up­set. If you see Touch­down Je­sus with his arms folded, for­get it.

Mean­while, USF, now 7-2 but fad­ing, trav­els to cold, cold Cincin­nati, where Char­lie Strong and his Bulls are sure to freeze up.

We could talk about Lane Kif­fin’s 4-5 FAU Owls, who aren’t a story any­more, even af­ter they pounded Butch Davis and his 6-3 FIU Pan­thers. Since when does beat­ing FIU merit a head­line?

All we re­ally have is UCF, 8-0 and pos­si­bly head­ing for an­other pre­tend na­tional cham­pi­onship.

Pre­tend na­tional cham­pi­onships.

That is what we’re down to here, that is the state of foot­ball in this state.

Things don’t get much bet­ter when we set our sights on Sun­day, our NFL night­mares.

The Dol­phins are 5-4 but not se­ri­ous play­off con­tenders. The only rea­son any of us thought of the Dol­phins last week was that the Rams, the NFL’s last un­beaten team, were beaten last Sun­day. We waited for the clink­ing of champagne glasses from mem­bers of the proud, per­fect 1972 Dol­phins (note: 46 years ago). But I read some­where there was no re­union. The guys live too far part. They just phoned each other. The Dol­phins don’t even have the com­mon de­cency to know the right way to live in the past.

Then there are the Jack­sonville Jaguars, a sexy pre­sea­son pick for the AFC ti­tle this sea­son, what with their de­fense and all. I know I was all in. Now I’m all out. The Jags are 3-5 and claw­ing at each other, a to­tal mess.

Last, and cer­tainly least, are the Bucs, the big­gest mess of all, reg­is­ter­ing on Geiger coun­ters all over the state. Their No. 1 draft pick and fran­chise QB is slid­ing to­ward obliv­ion and with him this fran­chise. At 3-5, the Bucs can still win Sun­day against Wash­ing­ton. Lucky fans should get Dirk Koet­ter and Ja­son Licht to sign the box scores.

What hap­pened here?

Where did it all go?

We’re talk­ing about per­fect sea­sons from a half-cen­tury ago. The Bucs’ 2002 Su­per Bowl­win­ning sea­son is a dis­tant mem­ory.

It’s worse with the col­leges. This state was once The Land of the Gi­ants. You couldn’t put out a sel­f­re­spect­ing AP poll with­out Mi­ami, FSU and Florida in the Top 10. The Sunshine State was foot­ball heaven.

Re­mem­ber when Mi­ami and Florida State were astride col­lege foot­ball? Re­mem­ber when Steve Spurrier ar­rived? The party was on. This state was the place to be every Satur­day. We thought it would never end. Well, it ended.

We’re left with sad ex­cuses for foot­ball week­ends. Can Mi­ami win at Ge­or­gia Tech to­day? Can Florida beat South Carolina? Can FSU make its sea­son and up­set Notre Dame?

Bet­ter ques­tion: Do we care?

Here in the Sunshine, sun­set is on the march. FSU might be down to try­ing to make its sea­son by beat­ing Florida on Nov. 24, es­pe­cially if it is shut out of the bowls with a sev­enth loss be­fore then. USF is down to the UCF game to make its sea­son. UCF is down to en­dur­ing an­other sea­son of hav­ing its ti­tle claims fall on deaf ears. The chance of a UCF-Florida Peach Bowl might be all we have left. It’s a rot­ten place to be for this state.

It seems like just yes­ter­day that Florida and Florida State were play­ing for a na­tional ti­tle. Or Mi­ami was what Alabama is to­day. Or Tim Te­bow was lead­ing the Ga­tors to an­other cham­pi­onship. Or Jameis Win­ston had FSU on top of col­lege foot­ball. Was that re­ally just five years ago?

A quar­ter-cen­tury ago, in 1993, the Florida State of Bobby Bowden and Char­lie Ward and Der­rick Brooks and War­rick Dunn played Notre Dame up there. It was a clas­sic, the Game of the Cen­tury, so-called, and FSU lost, and it didn’t even keep the Semi­noles from win­ning the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

That was how it was once upon a time. You couldn’t keep this state down for long.

Man, I miss it. I do miss it so.

FSU is a three-score un­der­dog tonight, even with Notre Dame miss­ing its start­ing quar­ter­back.

This would make Tag­gart’s and the Semi­noles’ sea­son.

Sun­set is a pro­hib­i­tive fa­vorite over Sunshine.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Mi­ami’s Lawrence Cager drops a pass dur­ing a loss to Duke. Re­mem­ber when the ’Canes were dom­i­nant in the fash­ion of Alabama to­day?

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