Sunday, October 9, 2011


I don't know how many of you follow college football all that closely, but something really remarkable happened Sunday.
Yes, Sunday. The day after all the games.
The Associated Press poll came out and no team from the state of Florida was ranked in the Top 25.
None. Nada. Zilch.
This the first time since December 6, 1982, that that has happened. That was the last poll of the regular season. In the poll following the 1982 bowl games, Florida State popped in at No. 13.
Thus began a streak of 472 consecutive weeks of rankings that included at least one of the state’s traditional Big Three.
Over that span, the state that produced 10 AP/BCS national champions (Miami five, Florida three, and Florida State two). Going back to 1999, when Florida State won its second title, Miami has won one and should have won another, and Florida has won two.
After Miami won the 2001 BCS championship, I was asked to do a piece for some publication about the dominance of Florida football.
I don’t remember my exact words, but my general theme was this: “Get used to it. One of the state’s Big Three is going to be in the title picture pretty much every year.”
And now not one of them can even make the Top 25.
Get me rewrite on the phone.
So, what the hell happened here?
A lot.
Start with coaching changes.
Not one of the coaches who won those titles is on the field this year at a Florida School. Urban Meyer, who won twice at Florida, is analyzing college football for ESPN.
Bobby Bowden, who won two titles at Florida State, is enjoying retirement. (I hope.)
And Larry Coker, who won the 2001 championship at Miami and was fired after the 2006 season, has started the football program at Texas-San Antonio.
Will Muschamp is in his first year at Florida and has just seen his Gators lose big the last two weeks to Alabama and LSU, which kind of indicates how far the recruiting fell off at Florida in Meyer’s last couple of years.
Jimbo Fisher is in just his second year at Florida State and just saw his Seminoles lose to traditional ACC doormat Wake Forest. He was around in Bobby Bowden’s last season as the head-coach-in-waiting, so he still bears some of the responsibility for whatever the dropoff in talent level has been.
Miami is on its second coach since it fired Coker, Randy Shannon having been let go after last season. His replacement, Al Golden, nearly saw his Hurricanes win at Virginia Tech last Saturday but is off to a 2-3 start in his first year.
Maybe better things will be in the future for all three, but it will take some work.
Besides the coaching changes, the other big difference since the 1980s and 1990s is that the state’s traditional Big Three aren’t the only kids on the recruiting block.
Sure, other schools from up north have always come to Florida to harvest the fertile recruiting ground in the state.
But more recently, South Florida (USF) and Central Florida (UCF) have been competing for the homegrown talent as well as the Gators, Seminoles, and Hurricanes. They don’t get the numbers when it comes to top prospects, but if they get one or two, that depletes the rosters of the Big Three.
And they will get those one or two or even three or four or more.
USF is in Tampa and in the last three years has notched wins over Florida State and Miami and started off this year with a win at Notre Dame. That gets the attention of kids who weren’t around when Howard Schnellenberger said he was roping of the “state of South Florida” and keeping in Miami area recruits for the U. (Well, he never really said the U. That is a recent thing.)
USF also has a charismatic and talkative coach at the helm in Skip Holtz, son of Lou. That’s a big help in attracting attention.
UCF is Orlando and doesn’t have a win over Miami, Florida, or Florida State, but it did beat Georgia last year in a bowl game to get in the final AP rankings for the first time, and the Knights could be in the mix to join the Big East Conference.
Both USF and UCF are also huge universities with relatively new facilities.
So, just like Miami, which is surrounded by top 100 prospects no more than a short drive away from the Coral Gables campus, both USF and UCF are going to have a shot at keeping some of the Tampa and Orlando kids at home to play for them in the future.
Plus, in addition to USF and UCF, there are two other schools in the South Florida area, Florida International and Florida Atlantic, that could siphon off a kid or two. FIU has a receiver and kick returner, T.Y. Hilton, who could probably play anywhere in the country.
And those two schools, as low as they are in the college football order of things, have something that their close neighbor, Miami, doesn’t have: An on-campus stadium.
So the absence of a Florida team from the national polls likely is going to be a temporary thing. 
Florida will get back rather quickly if it can beat Auburn and Georgia in its next games.
Florida State has four games coming up it likely will win -- Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State, and Boston College.
Miami has a one-loss North Carolina team and an unbeaten Georgia Tech coming up, but if it plays like it did at Virginia Tech, could win both. That would get the Hurricanes back in the polls.
Then Miami and Florida State are set to play on Nov. 12 in Tallahassee. Florida State plays at Florida on Nov. 26.
I don’t look for any of these three to stay out of the polls for long. And my gut feeling is that one, or even two, of them will make a significant jump back to the top of the polls within the next couple of years.
But I have been wrong before. Like when I wrote college football fans better get used to seeing one of them competing for the national title every year. 

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