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Reversal of fortune: Florida St. spoiler now

It is different now. Not as good, not as intimidating. When you talk about Florida State these days, it is more matter-of-fact. Good, but not great. Not close to great.

And intimidating?

That, too, has faded; the anywhere, any time, anyone school that used to be a true blueblood in college football is spoken of in the past tense.

And it was something to behold. Consider:

14 straight Associated Press top-five final rankings from 1987-2000.

25 straight bowl games.

12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships.

2 national championships.

2 Heisman Trophy winners.

A stretch, beginning in 1992, in which the Seminoles were ranked for 111 of 112 games played against ACC opponents.

As coach Bobby Bowden prepares for his team's visit to Boston College Saturday night, he recognizes the change in roles. It is BC (8-0, 4-0) that has the No. 2 ranking, the aspirations of championships and BCS bowl games, and it is the Seminoles (5-3, 2-3) who arrive as the underdogs and the spoilers.

"That used to be us," Bowden told the Florida Times-Union. "People used to have to deal with us. We were there every Saturday. It will be a great challenge."

Florida State deals with different challenges these days. The Seminoles are happy to be coming off a win over Duke that got them two games above .500. It's been that way for a while. The Seminoles were 7-6 a year ago and happy to go to the Emerald Bowl, where they beat UCLA. The year before, they won the ACC title but finished 8-5 following a triple-overtime loss to Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

In 2004, the Seminoles were 9-3 but did not win the ACC championship; they went to the Gator Bowl and beat West Virginia. It was a step down from the remarkable string of major bowl games each season from 1992-2000.

The Seminoles have lost nine times in the last two years, which is more times than they lost during a six-year stretch from 1992-97; the three losses this season are more than the Seminoles had in any one season during a 14-year span from 1987-2000, when the most they lost in one season was two.

This year's version of the Seminoles has been much like the past few editions - talent-laden but plagued by inconsistency.

FSU entered the season with 14 starters returning but also with as many questions as answers, the primary one being at quarterback as Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee competed for the lead role. It was Lee at the start, but now it is Weatherford, for a variety of reasons, the most recent being the two-game suspension imposed on Lee for a violation of the team's academic policies.

Bowden, who will be 78 next week and is the winningest active coach in major college football with 371 victories, tried to make adjustments by revamping his staff. He brought in Jimbo Fisher from LSU to run the offense as a replacement for his son Jeff, who was under siege from fans and media the past few seasons. Bowden made several other changes on his staff, including the rehiring of former assistant Chuck Amato, who was fired as North Carolina State head coach at the end of last season.

This season began with a Labor Day night loss to Clemson and included back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Miami, which put the chances of qualifying for a bowl in some doubt. That the Seminoles needed a win against perennial ACC cellar dweller Duke to get back on course is indicative of the program's state these days.

While the talent is still there, it is not as deep and nowhere close to being as efficient as it has been - not that you can get any concessions from BC.

"His players don't look any different to me," said BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani. "Those guys have skills that are as good as we have seen this season."

In a sense, Saturday night will be a survival game for the Seminoles, who have road games remaining at Virginia Tech and Florida as well as a home game against Maryland. FSU needs one more win to become bowl-eligible.

Through it all, Bowden has kept his sense of humor.

"If you're having a bad year, you're better off on the road," he said. "They don't boo you."

Make no mistake, Bowden and the Seminoles will hear some boos Saturday night as the Eagles follow a path that used to be an FSU staple.

"You're dealing with the upper crust now," said Bowden, sounding just a bit envious.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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