TALLAHASSEE — Florida State senior linebacker Dekoda Watson could only shake his head when asked the questions that are dogging, and apparently defining, his team:
Why aren't you guys more consistent?
"We have a big win and then come out the next week and struggle and lose a game," he said. "And it shouldn't be like that."
But it has been. After a solid offensive showing in the opener against Miami, albeit in a last-second loss, the Seminoles struggled against Division I-AA Jacksonville State, escaping with a win only when they scored twice in the final minute. Then came a nearly flawless offensive performance on the road in a rout of then-No. 7 BYU followed by a lackluster, error-prone loss to USF last weekend.
"There's a pattern developing here," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Play well, play bad. Play well, play bad."
That yo-yoing has been maddeningly evident the past few years as the Seminoles (2-2, 0-1), who visit ACC Atlantic Division rival Boston College (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday, have failed to string together impressive games.
After a 5-0 start in 2005, they've gone a mere 28-23 (14-16 in the ACC). Worse, they're 5-5 in their past 10 games, with four losses at Doak Campbell Stadium, a place where they once went 54 straight games without a loss.
"For us as a program the past several years," redshirt junior quarterback Christian Ponder said, "we kind of go one step forward and two steps back."
He said this team's youth is a factor. The players know only this pattern and "don't really know what they have to do to take the next step": how to show consistency in effort and performance week in and week out. It's a culture the coaches have been trying to change.
"I call it that 'Let-up syndrome,' " said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who as Bowden's anointed heir is the one fans expect to right the ship. "I make an A on a test, so I make an F on the next test, and I get a C, and everything's okay. Well, it's not. I want to have straight A's.
"In our culture today, sometimes it's like that. We accept that we can have mediocrity, and we can accept ups and downs. That's not acceptable here. I'm never going to accept it."
Watson said some players have tended to get a bit "big-headed" after a game like BYU, perhaps believing they are back to the level of the dynasty teams (1987-2000).
"We think we've accomplished something, and we get relaxed, and that's one thing you can't be. You can't be relaxed. You've got to stay hungry," he said. "Why can't you do that every game? Why can't you put everything on the line and have that mind-set that, 'Look. Nobody's going to beat us, nobody's going to outwork us.' Why not have that mentality all the time?"
All good questions.
In a not-so-veiled challenge, Ponder suggested that some players aren't sufficiently committed to physically and mentally preparing themselves to be at their best regardless of the opponent.
"I think there's guys on the team who come in and just think about football during practice and during meetings and don't really put in the time off the field," he said. "That can't happen if we want to be a national championship contender. Guys have to learn if they want to play well, they've got to do more; they've got to do more than what they're asked."
Back when FSU was consistently winning big and consistently vying for national titles, the players were good, and they knew it, but they also wanted to get better. They worked at it. Every day. Every game.
Although Fisher said it's time to "forget the past," he does want this generation of players to recognize why those teams succeeded.
"They understood how to come to work every day," he said. "That's what our guys have to learn to do: Come to work every day; develop me so we can be better. … It's time to grow up. It's time for us to grow up and play. We know what we're capable of. We have to decide who we want to be. Who do we want to be? What team do we want to be? Are we content to be average like we have been, or do we want to take the next step and go?"
All good questions.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/seminoles.