You know that many members of the national college football press corps will rip the Florida State Seminoles for losing to the Houston Cougars in the 2015 Peach Bowl on Thursday afternoon in Atlanta. Florida State made itself a target by winning (and because of Jameis Winston, but mostly by winning). When teams become targets, any takedown suffered on a national stage is read meat for the punditocracy.
Does this mean Florida State should indeed be eviscerated after getting outplayed by Houston? Not really.
First of all, Houston played and coached extremely well, especially on defense. Head coach Tom Herman rightly gets a ton of credit for Houston’s success — his stature in the college football community is skyrocketing right now, and at age 40, he’s the best candidate to become “Urban Meyer-level great in 15 years” among the younger generation of coaches. That said, Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had his players extremely well prepared for Dalvin Cook and Florida State’s defense. The Cougars’ defensive line outplayed Florida State’s offensive line. The Cougars were not overpowered — not to any slight extent — by a Power 5 conference opponent. Moreover, this Power 5 foe is one of the most successful in modern college football. Florida State didn’t lose a regular season game in either 2013 or 2014.
On the final day of 2015, Houston stood taller than the Seminoles. The Cougars deserve due credit.
The other reason not to be too hard on Florida State is that its quarterback situation was never ideal after the first few minutes of this game. Sean Maguire got injured early in the proceedings, and while he re-entered and was reasonably capable of making most throws, he was not able to push off on his feet and generate the strength needed to make the long throw. This limited Florida State’s offense and enabled Houston to reaffirm its commitment to take away Dalvin Cook.
If you’re going to judge a quarterback, he should be judged based on being able to play when healthy. Maguire shouldn’t be pounded for his very uneven performance on Thursday, and since Everett Golson stayed home in order to grieve in the aftermath of a death in his family, he should be exempt from criticism as well.
Houston was just better — playing with more toughness and speed, executing at a higher level for most of the day on both sides of the ball.
The Cougars drove home this dagger touchdown in the late going, putting the finishing touches on a fourth quarter in which they twice responded to Florida State scores with touchdowns on their own:
— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) December 31, 2015
The real story of this game from a Florida State-related vantage point is that the ACC in which FSU competed this season was not as strong as previously thought.
North Carolina faced a Baylor team without the Bears’ top two quarterbacks; its top running back; and BU’s top wide receiver. Yet, the Tar Heels’ defense — which generally thrived in the ACC this season — was curb-stomped.
Now, Florida State — albeit under some uniquely adverse circumstances related to its quarterback position — was outplayed by Houston. The ACC’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams were whacked around by teams from the state of Texas, both at the Power 5 level (Baylor) and the Group of Five level (Houston). The Group of Five, in fact, is now 2-0 in New Year’s Six bowls, following last year’s win by Boise State over Arizona.
Clemson might be the best team in the country, but it is often the case that a great team can emerge from a so-so conference.
The College Football Playoff semifinals will run their course, one way or another. Regardless of the outcome of any game involving Clemson, the ACC as a whole just can’t stack up favorably after Florida State’s Peach Bowl loss and North Carolina’s Russell Athletic Bowl failure. It’s not the way 2015 was supposed to end for the ACC.