Despite battling another one of his seasonal colds, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden appeared more relieved than anxious that outside forces had conspired to wreck his plans for an intrasquad scrimmage this week.
"If fate has a part, maybe it was best" that they did not scrimmage, Bowden said, as the rain continued to fall outside his Doak Campbell Stadium office high above the playing field late Tuesday. "We could have got a couple good kids hurt out there. I was getting a little leery about that.
"At least we did scrimmage last week . . . which we don't normally do before a bowl."
Bowden, leery? That notion seems odd, considering he has guided the Seminoles to a 14-2-1 record during a run of 17 consecutive bowl appearances, highlighted by a 13-0-1 start.
But after suffering losses in two of their past three bowl appearances--each denying the Seminoles a national championship--Bowden altered his bowl preparation schedule for the first time in 24 seasons at Florida State leading up to his top-ranked team's Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl showdown with No. 2 Virginia Tech.
After watching his team make numerous mistakes--12 penalties totaling 110 yards and three turnovers--in last season's 23-16 Fiesta Bowl national championship loss to Tennessee, Bowden was determined to shake up his practice schedule.
"I thought we looked rusty," he said after the loss to the Volunteers, which came on the heels of a 44-day break between games.
Rusty or not, the Seminoles shouldn't have any trouble regaining their emotional edge, thanks to inflammatory comments from Virginia Tech all-American defensive end Corey Moore.
The Seminoles "better be concerned about us," Moore said recently in Blacksburg. "We have nothing to lose. Those guys were there last year and probably should have won it, but they didn't get the job done.
"It's going to be very hard for their coaches to convince them that we can beat them. That's good. . . . By the time they realize we can beat them, it's going to be too damn late."
Given Virginia Tech's first appearance in a game of this magnitude--in 107 years of football--Moore's pot-stirring monologue came as somewhat of a surprise. Even more astonishing, Florida State's players have taken the high road in lieu of trading verbal barbs with the Hokies.
"Tell him [Moore] I said hello," said all-American nose guard Corey Simon, who spent a week traveling the banquet circuit with Moore.
"He's a prophet," Seminoles all-American guard Jason Whitaker quipped. "Everything he says is right."
Defensive line coach Odell Haggins offered the only memorable line from the Seminole camp: "Like Pete [Warrick] says, 'Don't sing it, bring it.' "
The Seminoles have taken a businesslike approach into their third national championship game appearance in three years, fully aware that they are one victory from their first 12-0 season and from becoming the first team to go wire-to-wire at No. 1 in the Associated Press media poll since the AP began a preseason poll in 1950.
Bowden has left nothing to chance. In an effort to compensate for the 45-day break between the regular season finale at Florida and the Sugar Bowl, he has plugged three extra days of practice into his formula for bowl success.
"You know, we weren't that far off last year in what we were doing," Bowden said. "We've made a couple of adjustments, but nothing really major. . . . We think we've got the right plan. Now it's just a matter of going out and trying to hope you can stay healthy."
Scrubbed scrimmage aside, Bowden won't know for sure whether his team will have successfully worked off the rust accumulated over the 45-day break until they take the field against the Hokies. The Seminoles will reconvene for practice on campus Dec. 26, then depart for New Orleans two days later.
Unlike years past, the Seminoles had to contend with a bowl practice schedule split by a week of final examinations. Conversely, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer opted to rest his team until the conclusion of finals, basically staying with the same postseason program his teams have used for their six previous bowl appearances, which have fallen from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1.
The Hokies were off from their regular season finale Nov. 26 until Dec. 17, when they had the first of six practices before breaking for Christmas late last Wednesday.
"It's a little bit longer [between games] than what we played last year at the Music City Bowl" on Dec. 29, 1998, Beamer said. "But our preparation is going to be the very same. And, to me, I don't see why it should be different [the Hokies routed Alabama, 38-7, giving Beamer a 3-3 bowl record]. There is a couple more days involved because instead of playing on the 1st or 31st, you're playing on the 4th, but our preparation will be the same. . . .
"I think in this particular year, to be quite honest with you, it was good to get away because coming down that stretch [of the season], you just don't know how much pressure starts to mount and how tight and intense things are, even though I don't think our team ever played that way or our coaches ever coached that way."
Bowden, meantime, sounded less comfortable about his schedule.
"It's more fragmented this year, which I don't like," he said. "We practiced before finals; practiced after finals; go home for Christmas and come back and practice again--then just go down there. But we've just got to do what we've got to do."
Florida State's players, however, were willing to go along with the new schedule to get the national title that eluded them in 1997 and '99.
"As a personal thing, [the schedule] really stinks," Whitaker, a fifth-year senior, said. "It takes away from my hunting.
"Football-wise, it's really good because it gives us that time to work off the rust. With the offensive line [the break] is very unnatural. With a little time off, you lose the use of your hands as good as they were before. It really throws off the timing."
Recapturing that timing will be the focus when the team returns to practice. The Seminoles will work out in full pads twice before departing for New Orleans, then gradually taper the contact work.
Junior quarterback Chris Weinke indicated that last week's effort wasn't as crisp as the work prior to final examinations.
"I felt like the week before exams was the sharpest we've been all year," Weinke said. "When you come back from exams, you kind of relax, and then start thinking about Christmas.
"We will come back from Christmas and we will be focused. I'm not worried about that."
Staff writer Angie Watts, in Blacksburg, Va., contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden has altered his team's regular bowl practice schedule while preparing for national title game with Virginia Tech.