Fall can be a relatively quiet season in Florida -- unless you happen to be a football fan. Then fall becomes loud and boisterous, especially around Tallahassee and Gainesville, the respective homes of Florida State and the University of Florida.
The Sunshine State is as rabid as any when it comes to football, and the college boys are giving the natives plenty to cheer about this year.
Florida State, which once again will meet the Big Eight champion in the Orange Bowl, has risen to No. 4 in the coaches' poll with a 9- 1 record, including victories over Nebraska and Pittsburg. Florida, meanwhile, has come practically full cycle from last season's disastrous 0-10-1 season to land a berth in the Tangerine Bowl with a 7-2 record.
The 20th-ranked Gators could further frost their comeback by knocking off Miami (of Florida) next Saturday and then Florida State on Dec. 6 in a nationally televised game rescheduled for that purpose.
Miami is no soft touch, though, as Florida State will tell you. The Seminoles' lone loss was inflicted by Miami, a 6-3 team struggling to escape the shadow of that city's popular pro football franchise, the Dolphins.
The current flagship of Florida football, however, is Florida State, which has attracted national attention with its climb up the polls.
The man who has made it all happen is Bobby Bowden, the team's likable head coach. Bowden arrived on the scene in 1976 with the football program nearly in shambles. During the previous three seasons the Seminoles had gone 4-29. In addition, the program was stained by reports of a "dehumanizing" off-season training regimen.
After a successful stint at West Virginia, Bowden was eager to return to Florida State. He had served the school as an offensive coach in the 1960s, when the Seminoles' dangerous passing attack frequently made haedlines with such players as Fred Biletnikoff and Steve Tensi.
Under Bowden, FSU immediately began to improve, reaching the Tangerine Bowl in 1977 and the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of last season. Florida State entered the latter game with a perfect 11-3 record, but lost to Oklahoma 24-7.
Bowden didn't allow the defeat to dampen his spirits. "The trip to the Orange Bowl far outweighed the loss," he said. "You just don't go to a game like that for the first time and act like an Orange Bowler. I'll tell you one thing, you get a taste of something like last year and you don't ever want to let it go."
Even in defeat, Bowden got good mileage out of the game by allowing NBC-TV to wire him for sound when Barry Switzer, the Sooner coach, refused. "I thought it would be good exposure for Florida State," he explained, "and it was.I got a lot of letters from Oklahoma people saying, 'Dad-gum it, they kept showing you on the sideline and didn't show us -- and we were beating the tar out of you.'"
From the looks of things, Bowden should become an institution in front of the Seminole bench before long. "The Ballad of Bobby Bowden" was written last year in his honor, and, worried that some other school would hire him away, Florida State has signed him to an automatically renewing five-year contract valued at $ 640,000. The contract, says Bowden, "means we are married and nobody's going to put our marriage asunder."
Doak S. Campbell Stadium has been enlarged this season, yet average attendance is outrunning the facility's new capacity of 51,094. The chance to play seven home games before their war-painted fans no doubt aids the Seminoles, but the team's biggest victory came against Nebraska on the road.
"Winning [18-14] out there at Lincoln, Neb., in our first big upset made the team believe it could beat anyone," Bowden said. "That was the belief we had going against Pittsburgh [the following week]."
Some observers figured the tougher schedule was ill timed, coming as it did a year after FSU lost tandem starting quarterbacks Jimmy Jordan and Wally Woodham to graduation. (The pair had jokingly been dubbed "Wally Jim Jordham, the two-headed quarterback.")
If the Seminoles look better than ever it's because of the defense, which has replaced a glittering passing game as FSU's calling card. Led by All-America nose guard Ron Simmons, who finished ninth in last season's Heisman Trophy balloting, the defense has relinquished fewer points (72) than any other major college team.
At times, FSU has succumbed to flexing its newfound muscle a little too much, attempting a on-side kick and two-point conversion in the latter stages of a rout of Boston College. The temptation to impress the pollsters with a lopsided victory can be particularly strong for an independent like Florida State, which runs the risk of being overlooked because of its absence from an exciting conference race that leads to a guaranteed bowl berth.
Miami is also without league connections, a situation that has had its drawbacks for the Hurricanes, who are sometimes confused with Miami of Ohio's team. Most of all, however, they've been up against the Miami Dolphins, the pro team that moved into town in 1966 and gobbled up the lion's share of fans and press coverage.
This year, in an encouraging breakthrough, the Hurricanes outdrew the Dolphins for the first time since 1968. The game that attracted 50,000 spectators (compared with 41,000 for the Dolphins the next day) was against Florida State, a built-in rival. Unfortunately, Miami plays a hodgepodge schedule that doesn't arouse consistent interest. In fact, only 11,000 watched the Hurricanes dispose of East Carolina.
Attendance figures are especially important for Miami, since the return of varsity, basketball to the school depends on the football team's generating enough revenue to build an arena.
Hoping to follow Florida State down the road to national recognition, Miami hired Howard Schnellenberger, former coach of the Baltimore Colts, as the Hurricane football coach last year. Schnellenberger has the name that attracts top players, and Miami has had its share of good ones -- Ottis Anderson, Chuck Foreman, and Rubin Carter, to name a few. The school has produced so many individual stars that it's known as "the pipeline to the pros."
Certainly, Miami players will have every opportunity to show off to pro scouts next year, when the Hurricane plays perhaps the country's toughest schedule. Their foes will include Florida, Houston, Texas, Mississippi State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Florida State.
Even if they don't make it to a bowl game, playing so many good teams virtually assures them of appearing on regional or national TV somewhere along the line. And since independents don't have to share TV appearances fees with anyone, the payoff could be in the vicinity of $250,000.