FSU football will be playing Michigan for the third time in this year’s Orange Bowl – but it was their second meeting that shaped the Seminoles’ program.
When FSU football started playing in the late 1940’s, the schedule was full of smaller colleges like the Seminoles in both the state of Florida and neighboring states – some schools that no longer even have football teams. It wasn’t until 1951 when they got their first “big name” opponent as the Miami Hurricanes scheduled a game against their in-state foes.
The ‘Noles would get some big wins in program history on the road against big name regional opponents – schools like N.C. State, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M – in the 50’s and early 60’s while adding wins over teams like LSU and Clemson in later years. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Seminoles got their first “national” win on the road with a victory over Pittsburgh.
Even with wins over teams like Syracuse, Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan State away from the friendly confines of home, Florida State would watch as those wins didn’t get the national respect because the ‘Noles, in many of those seasons, wasn’t in the running for a national title.
All that changed during the 1991 season – and a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan for FSU football with more than just pride on the line this time around. The second ever meeting between the Seminoles and the Michigan Wolverines was a de facto national title elimination game with the ‘Noles being the top ranked team and Michigan coming in at No. 3.
The 12 PM kickoff on national television was going to be the country’s first chance to see if this FSU team was really one that deserved the top ranking. With players like Casey Weldon, Amp Lee, Shannon Baker, Lonnie Johnson, Marvin Jones, Terrell Buckley and more, the Seminoles had what was at the time maybe their greatest collection of talent.
The game couldn’t have started any better for FSU football – as Buckley stepped in front of the Michigan pass (and its intended target, future Heisman winner Desmond Howard) and took it to the house on the second play of the game. Perhaps the most important play of the game came on Lee’s touchdown run with less than six minutes to go in the first half – extending the lead to eight for the ‘Noles heading into the locker room.
The second half would belong to the Seminoles, as Weldon would throw two of his three touchdowns on the day in the last 30 minutes, while Toddrick McIntosh would seal the game with his own interception return and FSU football went home with a 51-31 victory and solidified their top spot for much of the season.
While the ‘Noles would eventually lose their top spot and not play for a national title during this season, they didn’t fold under pressure on the road when the game mattered. After getting throttled in the opener of the 1988 season by Miami when being ranked No. 1, it was important for the Seminoles to get a win they could be proud of and would get the nation’s attention.
A convincing top five win in a storied location did just the trick – and the last quarter century since can be pinpointed in many ways to that moment in Ann Arbor, Michigan.