The Daily Nole

Sunday Centerpiece: Breaking FSU’s Football History Into Eras

Photo provided by Garnet and Great

Florida State is just over a month away from beginning its 73rd season of football.

Over the past seven decades, the program has experienced high highs and low lows. As a whole, the Seminoles claim more winning seasons than losing seasons, three national championships, 15 ACC titles and a plethora of top-25 finishes.

What the future holds for the program under head coach Willie Taggart remains to be seen, but in this piece, we attempted to dissect FSU football into 10 eras. Some are longer than others.

The Early Years (1947-53)

Record: 36-22-1 (.629)
Bowl Record: 1-0
Coaches: Ed Williamson (1947); Don Veller (1948-52); Tom Nugent (1953-)
Ranked Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 8-0 in 1950 (No ranking)
Florida State’s first seven years as a program saw some struggles, but some important steps toward becoming respected as a program. Although big-name opponents were few and far between, the Seminoles accomplished some notable firsts. In 1949, FSU defeated Wofford in the Cigar Bowl, 19-6, for its first-ever bowl win. One year later, FSU went 8-0 to complete its first perfect season. FSU went undefeated in the now defunct Dixie Conference from 1948 to 1950. Most of FSU’s success came under Don Veller.

The Maturation Era (1954-63)

Florida assistant Gene Ellenson and FSU head coach Bill Peterson “fight” over the Governor’s Cup after a 3-3 score following their annual match-up in Gainesville in 1961. (Florida Archives)

Record: 48-48-7 (.500)
Bowl Record: 0-2
Coaches: Tom Nugent (1954-58); Perry Moss (1959); Bill Peterson (1960-)
Ranked Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 8-4 in 1954 (No ranking)
By the mid-1950s, Florida State began playing bigger name opponents, including Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, NC State and for the first time in 1958, arch-rival Florida. As FSU was maturing as a program, there were certainly growing pains. Outside of an 8-4 season in 1954 and a 7-4 campaign in Tom Nugent’s final season of 1958, the Seminoles never won more than five games during “The Maturation Era”. Still, the Seminoles were quietly setting themselves up as a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

The Rising (1964-72)

Record: 62-31-5 (.667)
Bowl Record: 1-3-1
Coaches: Bill Peterson (1964-70); Larry Jones (1971-)
Ranked Finishes: 4
Best Finish: 9-1-1 in 1964 (No. 11 in UPI)
Year No. 5 of the Bill Peterson administration proved to be a breakthrough year for the Seminoles as they topped Florida for the first time ever, trounced Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl for their first bowl win in 15 years and finished No. 11 in the UPI Poll — their first ranked finish ever. Over a 9-year period, the Seminoles would finish ranked four times. FSU never quite had as good of a season as it did in 1964, but it was not an opponent to be taken lightly. Other notable victories during “The Rising” include a 10-3 upset of No. 5 Georgia in 1965 and a 20-14 win over 17th-ranked Texas A&M in 1968. In 1967, the Seminoles played second-ranked Alabama to a 37-37 tie in Birmingham.

The Depression (1973-76)

Record: 9-35 (.205)
Coaches: Larry Jones (1973); Darrell Mudra (1974-75); Bobby Bowden (1976-)
Bowl Record: 0-0
Ranked Finishes: 0-0
Best Finish: 5-6 in 1976 (No ranking)
After a strong finish to the Bill Peterson era and a strong start to the Larry Jones era, Florida State fell on its hardest times ever as a program. The four straight losing seasons from 1973-76 remains the longest in program history. Over that 4-year stretch, the Seminoles won just nine total games, lowlighted by an 0-11 season in 1973. At one point, dissolving the program was not out of the question. FSU restructured its booster system and in 1975, hired Andy Miller to head it. Five of the nine wins came in 1976 under first-year head coach Bobby Bowden. During “The Depression”, FSU was shut out four times, including 49-0 to Florida in 1973 and 47-0 to Miami in 1976. Those losses remain the largest ever to FSU’s two biggest rivals.

The Ascension (1977-80)

Record: 39-8 (.830)
Coaches: Bobby Bowden (1977-)
Bowl Record: 1-2
Ranked Finishes: 3
Best Finish: 11-1 in 1979 (No. 6 in AP); 10-2 in 1980 (No. 5 in AP)
After winning more games in his initial season than FSU won in its previous three seasons combined, Bobby Bowden would take the program to new heights early in his tenure. In 1977, FSU won its first bowl game in 13 years to notch its first 10-win season ever by drubbing Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl, 40-17. After an 8-3 finish in 1978, the Seminoles put together back-to-back top-10 finishes. In 1979, FSU cruised to an undefeated regular season before falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. In 1980, FSU enjoyed its first-ever top-5 finish after finishing 10-2. Both losses came in South Florida — to Miami and Oklahoma — by a single point. Midway through that season, Bowden earned his reputation for being able to beat anyone anywhere when his Seminoles knocked off top-5 teams in consecutive weeks. After taking down No. 3 Nebraska, 18-14, in Lincoln in one of Florida State’s most significant wins ever, FSU returned home to knock off No. 4 Pittsburgh, 36-22. With newfound football success came new investment in the program’s facilities.

The Regression Era (1981-86)

Record: 46-22-3 (.669)
Coaches: Bobby Bowden (1981-)
Bowl Record: 4-0-1
Ranked Finishes: 4
Best Finish: 9-3 in 1982 (No. 10 in UPI)
Florida State would run its streak of winning seasons to 10 during the early and mid-1980s, but the Seminoles took a step back when it came to the national conversation. Over six years, FSU never finished in the top-10 in the final AP Poll and failed to notch 10 wins after doing so three times in a 4-year span during “The Ascension”. From 1981 to 1986, the Seminoles went 0-6 against rival Florida and just 2-4 against Miami. FSU went just 7-18 during that stretch against AP-ranked opponents.

The Pinnacle (1987-2000)

Embed from Getty Images
Record: 152-19-1 (.887)
Coaches: Bobby Bowden (1987-)
Bowl Record: 11-3
Ranked Finishes: 14
Best Finish: 12-1 in 1993 (national champions); 12-0 in 1999 (national champions)
The 1987 season began a streak unlikely to be paralleled in college football. Over a 14-year stretch, Florida State finished in the AP top 5 each season. After suffering close losses to Miami in 1987, 1991 and 1992, Florida State finally broke through with its first national championship in 1993, beating Nebraska in an 18-16 Orange Bowl thriller. FSU would set a record for consecutive bowl wins, reeling off 11 straight from 1985 to 1995. FSU joined the ACC in 1992 and won the conference in each of its first nine seasons as a member. Quarterbacks Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (2000) would become FSU’s first two Heisman Trophy winners with each leading the Seminoles to a national championship. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews’ tenacious defenses were perennially one of the best in the nation. In 1999, Bowden enjoyed his only perfect season as Florida State became the first program ever to go wire-to-wire as AP No. 1. FSU finished the era with two national championships, but played for three more, falling in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 title games.

The Lost Decade (2001-09)

Record: 70-42 (.625)
Coaches: Bobby Bowden (2001-09)
Bowl Record: 5-4
Ranked Finishes: 6
Best Finish: 10-3 in 2003 (No. 10 in USA Today)
“The Lost Decade” wasn’t coined here, but there is no reason to try to rename an era that has already been accepted. After 14 straight top-5 finishes, the Seminoles fell from perennial power to the second-tier of college football. FSU was still respected as a program as it claimed three ACC championships and finished ranked five times. During “The Lost Decade” however, FSU managed just one 10-win season and not a single AP top-10 finish. The stretch ended with FSU finishing 7-6 three times in a 4-year span. Over those nine years, rivals Miami and Florida combined for three national championships. Each enjoyed 6-game winning streaks against the Seminoles.

The Awakening (2010-16)

Jimbo Fisher and Florida State celebrate winning the 2014 BCS National Championship.
(Ross Obley/FSU athletics)

Record: 78-17 (.821)
Coaches: Jimbo Fisher (2010-)
Bowl Record: 5-2
Ranked Finishes: 7
Best Finish: 14-0 in 2013 (national champions)
After 34 years at the helm, Bobby Bowden gave way to his offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as Florida State began a new era. After three 7-6 finishes in four years, Fisher, in his first season, led the Seminoles to their first 10-win season since 2003, their first ACC Atlantic title since 2005 and their first win over rival Florida since 2003. After winning seven of its final eight games in 2011, the Seminoles claimed their first ACC title in seven years in 2012 and their first major bowl victory since 1999. The end of the 2012 season would begin a streak of three straight ACC championships and a school-record 29 straight victories. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, the 2013 team scored more points than any FBS team ever en route to a 14-0 finish and national championship. The 2014 squad competed in the first-ever College Football Playoff, but fell to Oregon. Over the seven years of “The Awakening”, FSU won 10 games six times, finished in the top-10 four times and played in five major bowls.

TBD (2017-Forward)

Record: 12-13 (.480)
Coaches: Jimbo Fisher (2017); Odell Haggins (interim, 2017); Willie Taggart (2018-)
Bowl Record: 1-0
Ranked Finishes: 0
Best Finish: 7-6 in 2017
How the current era of Florida State football is seen by historians remains to be seen. It could be “The Decline”, “The Transition”, “The Revival” or anything else. After Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M on less than ideal terms late in the 2017 campaign, the Seminoles tabbed head coach Willie Taggart to lead them into the future. Taggart went just 5-7 in his first year with much to be desired. Taggart however, hasn’t always got off to great starts, but has left every program he’s been to in better shape than when he inherited it. Only time will tell if that’s the case in Tallahassee moving forward.

Special thanks to Bob Perrone and for help and resources used in producing this article.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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