|Florida State hopes to end disappointing season on high note|
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State didn't see its season ending in the Walk On's Independence Bowl and fighting for a winning season after coming into the year ranked No. 3 in the nation.
But here they are.
Now, the Seminoles are ready to end a disappointing season with a bang and show the college football world they'll be back in 2018.
"After being in what we've been through this year -- ups and downs, losing people, losing our coach -- I think this game gives us a chance to have one more time together and show what we're capable of doing and enjoy each other's presence," Florida State center Alec Eberle told the school's official website, Seminoles.com, in advance of Wednesday's bowl matchup against Southern Miss in Shreveport, La. "We're determined to win this game and finish the season 7-6. We want to have a winning record."
If the Seminoles (6-6) can beat the Golden Eagles (8-4) and secure their 40th straight winning season, that's one important goal that will have been accomplished for a Florida State program that began the year with so much promise but quickly found itself in turmoil.
Florida State lost its starting quarterback in the season opener against No. 1 Alabama -- then lost a bunch of games and found itself at 2-5 midseason. That meant the Seminoles needed to win four of their final five games to reach a bowl for a NCAA-record 36th time.
And they did just that -- despite rumors swirling the whole time head coach Jimbo Fisher was looking elsewhere after this season. And, as it turns out, he was.
Fisher took his talents to Texas A&M and left the Seminoles before their regular-season finale against Louisiana-Monroe, paving the way for Florida State to hire Oregon head coach Willie Taggart to take over the program less than a week after Fisher's departure.
Now, a new era begins Dec. 27th.
"We had to go out and finish strong ... in the classroom, at practice and (in the bowl game," Florida State interim head coach Odell Haggins said. "It's bowl preparation time now, and we're going to go out and be Florida State and have fun."
Southern Miss will be ready.
The Golden Eagles closed their season strong with three straight wins against Rice, Charlotte and Marshall, and they're practically playing a home game in Shreveport -- where they're more than comfortable. This is Southern Miss' third appearance in the Independence Bowl, and the Golden Eagles won their other two appearances.
Still, even in a down year, a game against Florida State is still a game against Florida State -- one of the top programs in America for the last 30 years.
"We just kind of do what we do (to prepare for Florida State). We don't do any kind of different routine. We're in the game week now, and we are prepared for a big challenge against them," Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson told the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American newspaper. "I know we're be playing a good football team next Wednesday, and we've got to be prepared."
Southern Miss finished 6-2 in Conference USA, and three of the Golden Eagles' losses this year were against bowl teams. Florida State and Southern Miss shared one common opponent in 2017: Louisiana-Monroe. Florida State beat the Warhawks 42-10 on Dec. 2 to reach bowl eligibility, while Southern Miss won 28-17 in Monroe, La., on Sept. 16.
Florida State will be without the services of some of its top players in this game. Cornerback Derwin James, receiver Ermon Lane, linebacker Matthew Thomas and defensive lineman Josh Sweat have all decided to skip the bowl game and prepare for the NFL Draft, rather than risk injury.
The Seminoles also had to deal with several reports Thursday claiming the program wasn't actually even bowl eligible after it was discovered that Florida State's win against FCS foe Delaware State could technically be scratched by the NCAA.
According to sources, Delaware State failed to reward 90 percent of its scholarship limit, a violation of NCAA rules.
The NCAA has yet to comment publicly. And Southern Miss doesn't seem to care one way or another.
"Forget them," Golden Eagles Allenzae Staggers told the Mississippi Sun Herald. "It's all about us."
And the game will definitely go on, Independence Bowl organizers said.
"It's a matter between the NCAA, Florida State and Delaware State," Independence Bowl media relations director Stefan Nolet said in a statement released to the Sun Herald. "We are continuing preparations for our game between Southern Miss and Florida State."
This is the 23rd meeting all-time between Florida State and Southern Miss, but it's the first time they've faced off since 1996. The Seminoles lead the series 13-8-1, although they are just 1-2-1 in neutral site games against the Golden Eagles.
This will be the first time in their 23-game history that Florida State and Southern Miss have met in a bowl.