Back in the day, the Seminoles had to hit the road if they wanted any shot at establishing themselves as real players on the national stage.
They'd go to Nebraska. They'd go to Notre Dame. They'd go to Ohio State and Michigan. They'd go to LSU. They'd go to Pittsburgh. They'd go to Southern California.
"When Florida State was building up to the dynasty level, they had that mentality of playing anyone, anywhere," said FSU senior quarterback Christian Ponder, whose father, David, was on coach Bobby Bowden's team in the early 1980s and made many of those trips. "We're kind of in that rebuilding position right now, and to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
That's what the Seminoles and Bowden did with regularity, especially during their unprecedented run of 14 consecutive seasons finishing in the Associated Press media poll's top 5 from 1987 to 2000.
That's what the No. 17-ranked Seminoles (1-0) and new coach Jimbo Fisher hope to do again, beginning with today's nationally televised matchup against No. 10 Oklahoma (1-0).
"This is really why you come to Florida State, for these types of games; playing out of conference, playing a big team, a great program," redshirt junior receiver Bert Reed said, distinguishing it from the annual nonconference showdown against intrastate rival Florida. "It's a challenge, but it's an opportunity for us and this program."
Although the Seminoles have beaten a couple of top 10 teams on the road in recent years — No. 2 Boston College on Nov. 3, 2007, and No. 7 Brigham Young on Sept. 19, 2009 — they couldn't build off of either.
FSU finished both seasons 7-6. It's one reason why then-school president T.K. Wetherell showed Bowden the exit, starting the Fisher era a year earlier than anyone, including Fisher himself, expected.
And no offense intended to ACC rival Boston College or BYU, which comes to Tallahassee in a week to complete a home-and-home series, but neither possesses the panache of Oklahoma.
The Sooners, after all, have compiled 800 wins, seventh all time among major colleges, and have amassed seven national championship trophies for their display case, the most recent coming when second-year coach Bob Stoops' defense shutdown the Seminoles and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke in an 13-2 upset in the 2001 Orange Bowl.
Since that game, Oklahoma has won five more Big 12 championships, reached the Bowl Championship Series finale three times and has earned a BCS bid three more times. The Sooners are also riding the nation's longest home winning streak, 31 games.
"It's a measuring stick for your team when you upgrade the talent and you play the level of competition that Oklahoma is and the way they're coached and the tradition they have," Fisher said, adding this is his young team's first road game.
"It's a great indicator of where you're at right now, and I'm anxious to see how our guys accept the challenge of preparing to go play Oklahoma. Not playing Oklahoma, but preparing to play Oklahoma. That's the key part we have to keep focusing on."
The foundation for excellence over time, Fisher preaches, rests with preparing then playing with toughness, effort, discipline and pride. Teams that do that usually win. And win consistently.
Not that Fisher or anyone, for that matter, is suggesting that an FSU win today against the favored Sooners would mean the program is "back" to the heights of the 1990s.
No one win would do that, folks.
"It's not going to prove we're back, but prove that we're heading in the right direction," redshirt senior safety Ochujo Jenije said. "We're just trying to make a statement with every game that we play. When they were building Florida State, they had to go up to Michigan, had to go up to Notre Dame, they had to go anywhere and beat the best. … That's what we're trying to do right now."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.