The Florida State-West Virginia matchup in the Gator Bowl has more than its share of intriguing subplots.
The big one, of course, is that the Jan. 1 game is iconic coach Bobby Bowden's swan song. Bowden, who wanted to return for a 35th season at FSU but announced his retirement this month after meetings with president T.K. Wetherell, spent 10 years — six as head coach — at West Virginia before coming to Tallahassee in 1976.
But don't forget about the big "what might have been." Just two years ago, shortly after he was named Bowden's heir apparent, FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher talked to West Virginia about coming home.
"It was very tough," Fisher said. "The biggest reason was my family."
Most, including his mother, are still there. Fisher, who needed and received the blessing of Wetherell to entertain the overture that was prohibited by his new contract, resisted that lure.
"It's a great place, but this is one of the places I dreamed of coming," said Fisher, a longtime FSU fan who later played for and coached with Bowden's son Terry. "You can do everything you want to do here. You can achieve everything you want to achieve."
Tapping all resources: As he faced the task of finding a defensive coordinator to replace the retiring Mickey Andrews, Fisher turned to a couple of former co-workers to pick their brains — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and Texas defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp — before landing Arizona's Mark Stoops.
Fisher and Pelini worked together at LSU in 2005, while Fisher and Muschamp were on Terry Bowden's staff at Auburn in 1995-96 (Muschamp was a graduate assistant) and then at LSU from 2001-04.
"We talk all the time," Fisher said. "First of all, we're good friends and, second of all, we have a great respect for what each other does. We always try to keep that network going, so you can always have guys that you can hire and bring into your program or you can go talk to and learn from in every way, shape or form."
JUCO SIGNEES: The football team landed a pair of junior college players, DT Anthony McCloud and RB Debrale Smiley. Both players, who initially signed with FSU out of Thomasville (Ga.) Thomas County Central in February 2008, didn't qualify and went to Itawamba (Miss.) Community College. They played as freshmen, sat out the 2009 season and plan to enroll in January so they can participate in spring practice. They will have three years of eligibility left.
Bright future: The volleyball team's improbable run through the NCAA women's tournament ended Saturday in the region final at Minneapolis, but despite the disappointment, coach Chris Poole is gushing with pride.
Not only had the Seminoles made it to the tournament for the first time since 2002, they advanced further than any FSU team and were one match away from the national semifinals in Tampa. FSU had won just one NCAA match in its 11 previous tournament appearances and that came way back in 1993.
"Yes, we're disappointed in that hour-and-a-half of the season, but other than that, it was incredible," Poole said, noting that FSU didn't receive a single vote in the preseason coaches poll but was No. 12 in the latest Top 25. "To go from that to what we accomplished this year, is to their credit."
Although the Seminoles (31-3) lose four senior standouts — middle blocker Brianna Barry, the ACC player of the year; outside hitters Mira Djuric and middle blocker Jordana Price, both All-ACC picks; and setter Nikki Baker — they have a solid nucleus returning.
Sophomore outside hitter Rachael Morgan was an All-ACC pick, then earned all-region honors. Junior middle blocker Lauren Young looked like she would be a starter but had a season-ending knee injury in preseason; she should be back in the spring. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Neville had a .309 hitting percentage. Outside hitter Fatima Yildirim and setter Duygu Duzceler, freshmen from Istanbul, Turkey, both did well. And outside hitter Lauren Richardson, the team MVP in 2008 who played little due to a medical condition, might be available next year.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.