In a Cotton Bowl that produced more turnovers than points, Florida State proved better at being bad than Texas A&M; to post a 10-2 victory on a gray, drab Wednesday when umbrellas sprouted like trees and mistakes grew like crabgrass.
There weren't any national titles growing, though. Losses to Miami and Florida settled that issue for Florida State, ranked No. 5.
Florida State and Texas A&M; combined for 13 turnovers to tie a 50-year-old Cotton Bowl record for futility. It was a game that began in drizzle and ended, appropriately enough, in a fog.
Texas A&M; finished 10-2 and extended the host Southwest Conference losing streak in the Cotton Bowl to four and seven of nine.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles ended their two-game losing streak, finished 11-2 and managed to persevere despite five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by quarterback Casey Weldon.
Weldon, who had only eight passes intercepted all season in 313 attempts, completed 14 of 32 passes for 92 yards, his lowest output of the season.
It was a performance that might have cost Weldon some money because he is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick and was runner-up to Michigan's Desmond Howard in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
"I just had a terrible day," Weldon said. "I don't want to make any excuses, but I just couldn't get a great grip on the ball and some of my throws sailed because of that."
In spite of Weldon's shortcomings, the Seminoles made a winner of Coach Bobby Bowden, largely because of an Aggie offense that lost the ball seven times. Six were fumbles, which set a Cotton Bowl record.
Bowden gratefully accepted the victory.
"We started off the season predicted to win the national championship by about everybody and this put a tremendous burden on us," he said. "But we didn't dodge the issue. We tried to do it. What this win means for me and these boys is we nearly did it."
The Aggies, who had won nine consecutive games, were nearly helpless on offense. Quarterback Bucky Richardson completed six of 24 passes for 57 yards. Two of his passes were intercepted.
Texas A&M; managed 180 yards total offense--45 yards in the second half--had no third-down conversions and had no drive longer than 36 yards.
It was a credit to the Seminoles' defense, said Florida State linebacker Kirk Carruthers. "We've been overshadowed by the offense all year, but we have to live with that," he said. "Our primary goal was to outplay their defense, considering that their defense was ranked No. 1 in the country. We felt we accomplished that."
As it was, the Seminoles' offense, which had scored at least 33 points in 10 games this year, didn't exactly blow the Aggies off the field. Florida State's longest drive was 53 yards and ended in a missed field goal. Florida State's second-longest drive was 46 yards and concluded with the game's only touchdown, a four-yard rollout by Weldon in the first quarter.
Actually, Weldon also accounted for Texas A&M;'s only points when he was trapped by Aggie linebacker Quintin Coryatt in the end zone and dropped for a safety. That play had given the Southwest Conference champions a 2-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Aggies seemed a lot more adept at chasing the guy with the ball than handling it themselves.
Greg Hill, Texas A&M;'s freshman halfback, probably aged slightly after fumbling three times. Hill's biggest fumble came early when he dropped the ball on the Seminoles' two-yard line after a 39-yard gain.
Just before Hill dove into the end zone for an apparent touchdown, Florida State quarterback Errol McCorvey hit him, which set into motion an unexpected chain of events. Hill let go of the ball and it rolled across the goal line and out of bounds at the side of the end zone.
According to a one-year-old NCAA rule change, a fumble that happens on the field that results in the ball rolling out of bounds at the back or side of the end zone is no longer a touchback. Instead, it belongs to the defensive team at the spot of the fumble.
So not only was A&M; deprived of a touchdown, Florida State was deprived of field position. Everybody lost. The Seminoles took over and on first down, Weldon rolled right and ran into Coryatt, who wrapped him up and dropped him with a thud behind the goal line for a safety.
As dizzying as the turn of events were, the outcome wasn't clear-cut until Florida State's Gerry Thomas kicked a 27-yard field goal with 2:40 left.
But the tone had already been set. In the final accounting, there were 10 fumbles (seven lost), 17 penalties, 17 punts, 36 incompletions out of the 56 passes thrown and 26 failures on 29 third downs.
Texas A&M; Coach R.C. Slocum said it was a defensive duel, which Bowden agreed with, although it seemed clear that it was an offensive struggle, not a defensive one.
The only clear offensive star was Seminole tailback Sean Jackson, chosen as the game's most valuable player. A replacement for Amp Lee, who was suspended for grades, Jackson gained 119 yards in 27 attempts. Jackson was asked if the victory and his MVP made up for losing the national title.
"You can't make up for that," Jackson said.
Cotton Bowl Notes
Florida State All-American cornerback Terrell Buckley said he will forgo his senior year and make himself available for the NFL draft. "(Defensive coordinator Mickey) Andrews told me I was fundamentally and mentally ready to go into the NFL," Buckley said. "After he told me that, I made my decision."