Florida State's Loss to Louisville Puts the Nation's Longest Bowl Streak in Peril

Florida State has advanced to a bowl game for 35 straight seasons, 11 more than next-best Virginia Tech. That streak is not certain to continue after a last-second loss to Louisville.
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When Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison landed on the back of quarterback Deondre Francois’s lower legs, rupturing the patella tendon in his left knee in the final minutes of Florida State’s season-opening 24–7 loss to the Crimson Tide, the Seminoles went from national title contenders to national title long shots. When they returned to action three weeks later after Hurricane Irma wiped out two gamedays and promptly lost 27–21 to NC State, the remnants of their College Football Playoff hopes disintegrated, and their ACC title hopes took a serious hit.

A month later, Florida State is on the verge of something even the most pessimistic fans couldn’t have envisioned as Francois lay prone on the field in Week 1. The Seminoles’ NCAA-best streak of 35 consecutive bowl appearances is officially in jeopardy after a 31–28 loss to Louisville Saturday that dropped them to 2–4 with five games to play.

Lamar Jackson ran for 178 yards and a touchdown, and Blanton Creque kicked a 34-yard field goal with five seconds to play to lift the Cardinals, whose 2017 season hasn’t exactly followed script either—they lost 45–42 to Boston College last week. A fourth-and-one stop with just under five minutes to play set up FSU true freshman quarterback James Blackman to lead the Noles’ offense down the field for the game-winning score, but after getting the ball into field goal range, Blackman fumbled on a botched zone-read play, and the Cardinals recovered with 2:05 left. Jackson led an eight-play, 59-yard two-minute drill to set up the game-winner.

Blackman has made steady progress after being thrown into the fire less than a month into his college career, but while his mistake loomed large on Saturday, he has been far from Florida State’s only problem. The defense was supposed to be one of the nation’s best units, but the game-winning drive it yielded to Miami in early October drained all remaining goodwill toward coordinator Charles Kelly. After another lackluster performance, fan frustrations boiled over after Saturday’s game, and head coach Jimbo Fisher snapped back.

In his postgame press conference, Fisher was asked about it and offered a more detailed response.

“If you’re a fan, are you going to be a loyal fan or not, just keep fighting with us,” Fisher said. “We ain’t quitting on you. Please don’t quit on us.”

The loyalty of those who haven’t checked out on this season in Tallahassee—the Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Baker noted that Saturday’s attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium was the lowest since a late November paycheck game against Chattanooga in 2015—may be tested down the stretch. The Seminoles need four wins over their final five games to get to the six needed for bowl eligibility, and the past few weeks have shown just how tricky that stretch run might be. Up next is a Friday night trip to Boston College, which has enjoyed a stunning offensive renaissance in wins over Louisville and Virginia, followed by a visit from Syracuse, which just knocked off Clemson. Then there’s a trip to Death Valley against that same Clemson team, playing with no margin for error in the ACC Atlantic race. After a visit from FCS Delaware State, the Seminoles close out the season against Florida in The Swamp, and while the Gators have yet to score a touchdown against FSU in Jim McElwain’s first two years as head coach in Gainesville, the chance to end their in-state rivals’ season a month early would ramp up the stakes.

How many wins are guaranteed in there: Two? Three, if Syracuse and BC come back to Earth? After Saturday, the Seminoles can’t take anything for granted, which means Virginia Tech (24 straight bowl games) and Georgia (20) may soon be the new standard for college football postseason consistency.