Florida State coach Willie Taggart said all the usual clichés about the importance of Saturday’s season opener against Boise State.
Every game is crucial. This one’s big because it’s the only one his Seminoles have this week.
But this is more important than most.
It’s the second biggest of his career.
The stakes are so high because his Year 1 results were so low. The end of an NCAA-record 36-year bowl streak. FSU’s first losing record (5-7) since 1976. Six defeats by at least three scores.
The struggles fueled questions about Taggart’s ability to coach and recruit at the level FSU demands. The doubts intensified in the offseason, which is why his name has appeared on countless preseason hot-seat lists.
Barring scandal or a 1-11 debacle, it’s hard to see FSU firing him for many reasons, including the $17 million he’d be owed from a program that’s hurting for cash. But he needs to follow his motto and Do Something to prove he can handle his dream job.
He needs a win.
Beat Boise, and the optimism will rise around a team that’s lost 13 of its last 25 games.
Beat Boise, and a 5-0 start looks possible heading into an Oct. 12 date at No. 1 Clemson.
Beat Boise, and Taggart can answer some of the questions about his program’s direction.
Can he coach at a high level? Given the experience of Boise State’s staff and months of preparation, a win would suggest yes.
Can he rebuild a historically bad offensive line? Given the Broncos’ defensive front led by future NFL edge rusher Curtis Weaver, a win would show progress in personnel, scheme or both.
Can a team that folded last year handle adversity? Given the change in location (Jacksonville to Tallahassee) and time (primetime to noon) caused by Hurricane Dorian, a win would be an emphatic yes.
But lose to Boise, and it’s easy to see another slide. That trip in two weeks to ACC Coastal contender Virginia looks tougher. A 2-4 start isn’t out of the question. The doubts will get louder.
The good thing for Taggart and FSU fans is that he’s been in this situation before.
Taggart was 7-21 in his first 28 games at USF with waning fan interest and sagging public confidence heading into his 2015 matchup against Syracuse. That’s still the biggest game of Taggart’s career, because he was coaching for his job.
He kept it.
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Taggart freed up quarterback Quinton Flowers to use his creativity and natural abilities. Together, they blew out the Orange by 21. The Bulls kept rolling until Taggart jumped to bigger jobs at Oregon and FSU.
And that has Taggart where he is now, facing another fork-in-the-road game. It’s not a must-win, but it’s massive.
Beat Boise, and Taggart can create a positive second impression with FSU and its fan base. The questions won’t go away immediately, but they’ll soften with a win over a top-40 team. His players and program will have a statement-making victory to prove Taggart’s rebuilding process is working.
“It's the beginning of the season,” Taggart said. “New chapter, new beginning, and a chance for us to go out and show our improvement.”
But if the improvement isn’t there and Taggart’s Seminoles lose at home to a Group of Five team?
FSU will have an early reason to doubt whether that improvement will ever come.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.