TALLAHASSEE — With its streaks of bowl appearances and winning seasons intact, Florida State can now officially move on to the Willie Taggart era.
Taggart was named the program’s 11th head coach on Dec. 6, five days after Jimbo Fisher resigned to go to Texas A&M. Taggart observed practices leading up to the Seminoles’ preparations for the Independence Bowl and was on the sideline for Wednesday’s 42-13 win over Southern Mississippi .
With FSU closing the books on a 7-6 season, it’s now Taggart’s program.
"I can’t wait to really put my stamp on it and get rolling. But more importantly, I can’t wait to continue to get to know these guys," the former USF coach said last week. "Once we get to know each other … the things they can do on the football field will take care of itself."
Taggart has provided a couple of clues on how different things will be under his watch during some of the bowl practices. Coaches screaming at players were replaced by music, which gave practices more of a relaxed feel. He also has been more accommodating than Fisher on uniform combinations. FSU wore garnet jerseys and pants for the first time in two years.
Those changes might appeal to players, but fans are more concerned about what Taggart can do to turn around a program that has failed to live up to expectations the past two seasons.
Since winning 33 of 34 games between 2013 and ’15, including a national title in 2013, FSU is 21-12, including 10-10 in the ACC.
Many thought this was going to be the season when the Seminoles would return to the College Football Playoff. It was ranked third in the Associated Press preseason poll but lost quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener against Alabama, did not play for close to three weeks due to Hurricane Irma, and was 3-6 at one point before winning out. That allowed FSU to make a 36th consecutive bowl appearance and avoid its first losing season since 1976.
This was the first time since 2011 FSU didn’t won 10 or more games or qualify for one of the New Year’s Six games.
The biggest question heading into next season will be quarterback. James Blackman started the final 12 games after Francois was injured. Blackman was the first true freshman to start at the position for FSU since 1985. He struggled at times but over the final four games completed 63.1 percent with 10 TDs and three interceptions.
"What happens in the future, happens in the future. I want to learn from my mistakes and get better," said Blackman, who set an Independence Bowl record with four TD passes.
MILITARY BOWL: Backup quarterback Zach Abey scored five touchdowns, Malcolm Perry ran for 114 yards and two scores and Navy routed Virginia 49-7 in Annapolis, Md. After Virginia’s Joe Reed took the opening kick 98 yards for a score, the Midshipmen (7-6) got two TDs apiece from quarterbacks Perry and Abey in taking a 28-7 halftime lead. Perry left in the third with a foot injury, leaving Abey to score on runs of 5 and 20 yards to make it 42-7. The Midshipmen rolled up a Military Bowl-record 452 yards rushing. Playing in their first bowl since 2011, the Cavaliers (6-7) could not contain Navy’s triple option and had no success moving the ball. Navy attempted only one pass.
CAMPING WORLD BOWL: Mason Rudolph passed for 351 yards and a pair of touchdowns, James Washington became Oklahoma State’s career receiving yards leader and the No. 17 Cowboys beat No. 22 Virginia Tech 30-21 in Orlando. Washington caught five passes for 126 yards, giving him 4,472 for his career and passing Rashaun Woods for the school mark. Justice Hill ran for 120 yards and another score for the Cowboys (10-3) against the Hokies (9-4).
NEBRASKA: Quarterback Tanner Lee will skip his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.