Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 21 Florida State

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 21 Florida St.

Bobby Bowden wants one more national title before he retires -- and Rankman wants a red Ferrari for Christmas.

The odds of either happening don't look good.

It's funny how things flip-flopped. A few years ago, everyone was worried about Joe Paterno tarnishing his legacy at Penn State by staying too long. Paterno had four losing seasons in a five-year stretch at the start of the decade but has since recovered to win the Big Ten title and dictate to the school the terms of his retirement -- not the other way around.

Now Bowden is in mini-career crisis. He presided over a 14-year period, starting in 1987, in which his teams ranked no lower than No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll. Let's see some whippersnapper half his age top that.

But 40-yard times have changed. Florida State lost only 13 games in Bowden's golden decade of the 1990s -- when he captured his two national championships. Bowden enters 2009 having lost 38 games since 1999.

Bowden, a military history buff who turns 80 on Nov. 8, is savvy enough to know not even great generals stay on top forever.

Once, after a 6-6 regular season, he was reminded of Napoleon: "He played in the Emerald Bowl too," Bowden quipped.

Bowden is fresh off a 9-4 rebound season in which the Seminoles defeated Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, but it's never going to be 1999 again.

At the peak of power, Bowden had the talent luxury of playing redshirt juniors at quarterback. Since starting Chris Rix as a freshman, though, Bowden has sacrificed experience at his most important position -- and has it ever shown in the win-loss column.

Bowden's legacy also has been bruised by NCAA sanctions that stripped him of 14 victories in connection with an academic fraud scandal that permeated the entire athletic department.

Bowden enters the season with 382 career wins, one behind Paterno on the major college all-time victories list. Florida State is appealing to get the vacated wins back but, if it doesn't happen, Bowden on paper is coming off a 9-18 year.

That said, there's a decent chance Bowden, like Paterno, has one last push toward the top . . . but he'd better get a move on. Florida State has a succession plan in place that must pay offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher $5 million if he's not head coach by January 2011.

That gives Bowden two years -- assuming he sticks to the program.

He has an impressive-looking junior in Christian Ponder, the first Seminoles quarterback to rush for 400 yards since Charlie Ward, and enough talent to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Winning another national title, though, would mean dislodging No. 1 Florida from the state's catbird seat, and it's tough to see Florida State doing that before Bowden hands the program over to Fisher.


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