Fisher, Seminoles embrace importance of Orange Bowl

Win would improve Florida State's record to 6-0 in South Florida under Fisher

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher pose for a photograph with the Orange Bowl trophy.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher pose for a photograph with the Orange Bowl trophy. (Orange Bowl Committee)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher remembers sneaking out of bed as a little boy and staying up late to watch the classic Orange Bowl games of 1980 and 1981.

Those New Year's Day games matched traditional power Oklahoma against Fisher's current team.

For Florida State, the 1980 meeting was the first time the Seminoles had ever played in one of the country's longest-running bowl games. The Seminoles took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but it was the last time Florida State scored. Oklahoma won 24-7, handing the Seminoles their first loss of the season.

Florida State fell a point shy in the next year's rematch, losing 18-17 after the Sooners scored a touchdown with 1:33 remaining and converted a two-point attempt to take the lead.

Those Bobby Bowden-coached Florida State teams were a combined 21-1 entering the Orange Bowl. Aside from the two bowl games, Florida State's only other loss during that span was to Miami at the old Orange Bowl stadium.

Fisher, who spent his childhood in West Virginia, has often spoken about growing up a Florida State fan, but he followed Bowden even longer, when Bowden coached Fisher's home state Mountaineers.

Eventually, he got the chance to play for a Bowden (his oldest son, Terry) and serve under Bowden as offensive coordinator at Florida State for Bowden's final three seasons.

Now, Fisher gets to leave his mark on Florida State's Orange Bowl legacy and continue his winning ways in South Florida.

Despite Bowden's unprecedented success at Florida State (two national championships, 12 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, 14 straight seasons of double-digit victories and top-five finishes, 11 consecutive bowl wins and owner of the second-most wins among major college coaches), the Seminoles were 3-5 in Orange Bowl games under his tenure. Contrast that with Fisher, whose teams are a perfect 5-0 at Hard Rock Stadium.

"You know, people ask us at the beginning of the year when we were 3-2, what do you have to play for?" Fisher told reporters Thursday. "Well, this is what you have to play for. Just because you lose a game here and there doesn't mean your purpose (changes)."

The Seminoles (9-3) have won four in a row and six of their last seven since falling to 3-2 after North Carolina snapped Florida State's nation-best 22-game home winning streak. The 37-35 loss to the Tar Heels came just two weeks after an embarrassing 63-20 loss at Louisville.

Florida State is streaking at the right time, but Michigan (10-2) is favored to win. The Seminoles are looking to avoid a third straight bowl loss for the first time in school history.

"It means nothing," Fisher said. "The past means nothing. You play in the future."

Some fans were ready to write off the Seminoles after their rocky start, but Fisher said his players were resilient and realized the goals that were still in front of them. Fisher would be disingenuous if he dismissed the College Football Playoff as a goal for a team with lofty preseason expectations, but he made it clear that the Orange Bowl is not a consolation prize.

"If you're keeping score, it's not meaningless," he said.

Fisher said there is no such thing as a meaningless bowl game.

"I think that's a product of our playoff, and I said that was going to happen," Fisher said.

He chastised the media for creating a playoff-or-bust culture.

"You guys act like it's playoff or nothing," Fisher said. "You win 10, 11 games, beat your rivals, go play an Orange Bowl or a Sugar Bowl or a Cotton Bowl or whatever bowl, the bowl in Orlando, the Russell Athletic Bowl and all, those games all matter. What is wrong with that? One of the great things about college football is not everyone ends on a loss."

Florida State hasn't played Michigan since a 51-31 victory in 1991, scoring the most points ever allowed at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines are making their first Orange Bowl appearance since a 35-34 overtime win against Alabama in 2000.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose summer satellite camps in Florida was the focus of a recent NCAA ban and drew the ire of many other coaches throughout the country, is returning to the Orange Bowl for the first time since leading Stanford to a 40-12 victory against Virginia Tech in 2011.

Harbaugh was a starting quarterback for the Wolverines in 1986 when he last faced Florida State. Michigan edged the Seminoles 20-18.

He acknowledged the importance of Michigan playing in fertile recruiting ground like South Florida.

"There's a real pride when you talk to anybody that's played football growing up in the state of Florida, pride about the type of football that's played in Florida, and there's a respect nationally," Harbaugh said. "Everybody that I know that knows football has a great respect for Florida football."

He also joked about his affinity for oranges.

"I can't find anybody that doesn't like mandarin oranges," Harbaugh said. "I find oranges to be very refreshing and same with orange juice. Great thirst quencher."

Harbaugh hopes to hoist plenty of oranges late Friday night. The Seminoles hope to do the same.

Fisher's message to the Seminoles as they prepare to face Michigan is simple.

"How are you going to be remembered?" Fisher said he asked his players. "How do you want to be remembered when you finish?"

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