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Bowden faces two barriers: age and losing

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- The mind still is sharp. Give the old guy that much.

Bobby Bowden is not so far removed that he can't see where this is heading. They may have turned the scoreboard lights off as soon as the game ended Saturday, but the Florida State coach knows how to keep score.

There is another loss, another birthday around the corner and a new set of issues about to confront him.

"That's the next thing you say when somebody is my age: He's too old," Bowden said. "I expect that.

"Does (my age) have an affect on me? I don't think it does."

They never explain this when you become a legend. That for the rest of your career, it will be held against you.

No matter what Florida State does the rest of this season, it will not be near enough. Not when measured against the memories of Bowden's past.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, FSU has lost three of four games. For the first time since 1985-86, the Seminoles will have back-to-back seasons of at least three losses.

Someone reminds Bowden of what he talked about in August. How he said he would consider retirement if the job stopped being enjoyable. That it would come if three- and four-loss seasons started running into one another.

"I'm not ready to retire, if that's what you're asking," said Bowden, who is 12 days away from his 73rd birthday.

It is not fair to blame this on Bowden's age. Not when he had this program in the national championship game 21 months ago. Not when the Seminoles went undefeated and won the national title a season before that.

He can't go from a coaching genius at 70 to a fuddy duddy at 73.

At the same time, it is more than fair to hold Bowden responsible for what is going on at FSU today. This is a program that has not just lost mystique, but has also lost a good deal of prestige and respect.

Florida State is a woefully undisciplined team. You might argue that, even in the best of days, the Seminoles were a little wild and a mite reckless. The problem now is they no longer have the overwhelming talent to get away with their numerous mistakes.

This is a team that has had problems with deep passes, yet gets burned on the first play for a 65-yard touchdown.

"That's just undisciplined," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "Evidently, we're playing people this game doesn't mean enough to."

This is a team that benches one receiver for dropping too many passes and his replacement keeps lining up in the wrong formation.

This is a team that, when the game is on the line, cannot come up with a single play to save a season. FSU has been outscored 119-106 in the second half.

"Here was a chance to find out if you're back to the way you used to be. And we didn't show that," Bowden said. "We're back to being a question mark. That's what's most disturbing to me."

The other losses you could rationalize. The rainstorm got them in Louisville. Against Miami, everyone knew the kicker was to blame. Now you wonder if you were looking at this the wrong way. Now you realize if Iowa State gains one more yard in the opener, FSU is 4-4 today.

The most convenient scapegoat, beyond Bowden, is quarterback Chris Rix. Players are making none-too-subtle suggestions that a change is needed in the huddle.

Never mind that Rix kept the Seminoles alive in the first half Saturday when the running game was missing and the receivers could not hold on to the ball. Never mind that Adrian McPherson's numbers are skewed because the game was out of reach.

Rix makes a convenient target because he makes mistakes of aggression and because his cocksure manner makes him unpopular among teammates.

"The people who know anything about football, who know what's going on, know why we lostthe game," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "You turn the ball over three times at your own 20 and you're going to lose. You could have put Duke in that situation and Duke would have beaten us."

When they were in this position a year ago, it was not such a surprise. The Seminoles had lost a large graduating class, were replacing a Heisman Trophy winner with a freshman at quarterback and had injuries at receiver.

It was a down season, but at least there was an explanation. And there was also the promise of better days.

This is different. This is an experienced team. A team talented enough to play No. 1 Miami to the last second on the road, but not disciplined enough to stay near the top of the polls.

They play a strong first half and a terrible second half. They play a strong game one week and a terrible game the next. With these Seminoles, you never know what to expect.

And that, at least, is getting old.

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