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FSU's Bowden braces for great expectations

Bobby Bowden is playing golf this morning at Belleair Country Club with Florida State boosters, and he's likely to make every one of them feel like his best friend. In return, he'll hear the question he's heard all spring throughout his annual golf tour: Is this the year the Seminoles win the national championship?

The FSU football coach doesn't just get it from fans and boosters. Several publications called this spring to say they were considering the Seminoles for their preseason No. 1 ranking.

And coming off a 10-2 season, with a victory over Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl and eight of 11 starters returning on offense and nine of 11 on defense, even Bowden admits it is hard to hide.

"It makes it tougher," said Bowden, 61, who enters his 16th season at FSU. "If I was opening the season against the No. 1 team in the nation, I would get ready, I would want to beat them.

"Remember '88? We played Miami down there and they were mad that we were ranked No. 1. They thought they were No. 1. And they were."

Bowden can laugh now about that season, when the Seminoles were the preseason No. 1-ranked team and lost their opener to Miami 31-0. They went on to win 11 straight games.

This time, Bowden said, he can use that as an example.

"It's where we want to be," he said. "We're not trying to be No. 5. It puts the monkey on our back. That's where we want to be. It beats the alternative."

If the Seminoles can make it through their schedule, they'll be deserving champions. They open against Brigham Young and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Ty Detmer in the Pigskin Classic in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 29. The Cougars knocked off Miami last year in the first game.

Then there is a road trip to Michigan in September, a home game against Syracuse and a road game against LSU in October, and Miami and Florida to finish the season.

"It's a darn good schedule," Bowden said. "LSU at LSU isn't going to be easy. Michigan is loaded. You could pick them as national champions. BYU and Ty Detmer can beat you on any given day. Florida State at Florida is always difficult. And, of course, Miami. It's a very representative schedule. You don't have to back it up to anybody."

Bowden does, however, have to explain why he would elect to play a tough opener against BYU. The Seminoles were scheduled to start the season against Tulane on Sept. 7, but will start nine days earlier against BYU.

And given FSU's recent history for slow starts (it lost an opener to Miami in 1988 and lost the first two games in 1989), it could be a risk.

"If you're going to do it (win the national title), you have to do it," Bowden said. "I thought our boys would be more focused with a nationally ranked opponent on TV to start the season. It's worth taking the chance of a loss."