CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What happened to Florida State football?
It’s hard to put all the blame on second-year head coach Willie Taggart, but a 5-7 record in 2018 marked the Seminoles’ first losing season since 1975, which was former coach Bobby Bowden’s first year at the helm.
Signs of a downward spiral first appeared in 2017, Florida State’s last season under Jimbo Fisher, when FSU needed to win its last four games to finish 7-6.
Taggart set out on a fast track for coaching success after his 2016 South Florida team went 10-2. That helped him get a Power-5 Conference job at Oregon in 2017. The Ducks went 7-5 that year, Taggart was hired by Florida State and has gone 12-12 over the past two seasons.
Who expected to ever see Florida State in rebuilding mode?
“I lead the way I know how,” Taggart said, “but I’ve also seen things, going through last year, that I need to correct and make things better.”
Starting in 1992, Florida State won or shared the ACC championship 11 times in a 12-year span. The Seminoles subsequently won three straight championship games between 2012-2014 but have now gone four straight years without playing in the ACC title game.
Meanwhile, Clemson has won four straight ACC championship games and established itself as the team to beat.
“You’ve got to beat ’em,” said Taggart, whose Seminoles travel to Clemson’s Death Valley for their annual Atlantic Division meeting. “You can’t just go and compete. You’ve got to beat ’em.
“That’s what they did to gain [superiority] and that’s what we’ve got to do to get it back. I’m really excited about the way [the Seminoles] have been working to get back.”
Traditionally known for its high-powered offense, Florida State was held to a field goal in a 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech in the 2018 season opener. The Seminoles failed to score more than one touchdown on five occasions last season.
Florida State did score 30 points or more in three games, but two of those outings came against Samford and Northern Illinois. Clemson routed the Seminoles 59-10 in Tallahassee, Florida.
In three of their last four games, the Seminoles gave up 47 points to N.C. State, 42 to Notre Dame and 41 to Florida.
Harlon Bartnett is in his second season as defensive coordinator after leaving the Michigan State staff to join Taggart last season. However, Taggart replaced offensive coordinator Walt Bell with Kendal Briles, most recently at Houston.
Briles is the son of Art Briles, known for his potent offenses when he was the head coach at Baylor.
After passing for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns as a freshman in 2017, James Blackman was limited to four games last year due to injury.
“I saw James last night; he was over at my house [Tuesday] for dinner,” Taggart said. “Football-wise, he’s ahead of where he was last year. I think James is growing up; he’s always been a great leader. I think he’s taken another step in the terms of leadership.
“He’s a junior in school and he’s maturing. I think last year was beneficial for him to be on the sideline and see things from a different angle. I just want him to understand the game of football better.”