During the course of the 2017 regular season, Florida State lost its starting quarterback to injury, lost its head coach to another school, lost a lot of games and in the process lost some clout in the college football world.
But setting the tone for a Seminoles comeback next year begins in just over three weeks.
On Dec. 27, Florida State (6-6) will face Southern Miss (8-4) in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., where the Seminoles minus head coach Jimbo Fisher, who left last week to accept the same job at Texas A&M will look to get a win, finish 7-6 and extend the program's streak of consecutive winning seasons to 41.
"We don't want to be the team that ends that streak," Florida State defensive back Levonta Taylor said earlier this year when the Seminoles were 2-5 and staring at the real possibility of its end.
Even in a down season, however, Florida State managed to keep another important streak alive this year: reaching a bowl game for an NCAA record 36th straight year. The Seminoles won three of their final four games to close the season, including last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe 42-10 to become bowl eligible.
Florida State, which named defensive line coach Odell Haggins interim head coach before the game against the Warhawks, now faces a Golden Eagles program it's very familiar with. Florida State has played Southern Miss more than any other non-conference or in-state opponent over the last 65 years. The Seminoles are 13-8-1 all-time against the Golden Eagles, who last played Florida State in 1996 a game that ended in a 54-14 rout by the Seminoles. This is the first time they've ever met in a bowl game.
"We are honored to be playing in the Walk-On's Independence Bowl and representing Florida State University in Shreveport," Haggins said. "We are happy to extend our bowl streak that means so much to everyone associated with the program. We are excited for what our team has accomplished this season, including our fifth straight win over Florida for the first time in program history. This is all about our players, and I'm thankful to FSU President John Thrasher and Vice President/Director of Athletics Stan Wilcox for allowing me this opportunity to lead our team into the bowl game."
Both teams come into the contest on a three-game winning streak. Southern Miss beat Rice, Charlotte and Marshall to end the season, while Florida State beat Delaware State, Florida and Louisiana-Monroe to wrap up the year. In its current win streak, FSU has outscored its opponents 157-38.
Southern Miss is making its third straight bowl appearance, and third overall in the Independence Bowl. The Golden Eagles last played in this bowl in 1988 when it beat UTEP 38-18.
By the time Florida State and Southern Miss kick off, the Seminoles should have a new head coach in place. The latest reports Monday were that Florida State was targeting Oregon head coach Willie Taggart and that a deal could be in place as soon as Wednesday. Florida State Vice President and Athletic Director Stan Wilcox said after the Seminoles' win on Saturday that he did not have a top candidate but felt the school had many great candidates to choose from.
Florida State players won't be thinking about that in the weeks leading up to the bowl game, however. They'll just being thinking about all that was learned during this season that was filled with adversity.
"Just stay focused on the main thing. There were a lot of distractions, there will always be a lot of distractions, but as a team we made a commitment to each other. We knew we had to go finish this thing, no matter how it started or how it ended up, whatever it took to get to a bowl game, we were going to do it," Florida State offensive lineman Alex Eberle said. "(What we experienced this season is bigger than just football. The things we go through as a team, the things we go through as a program are life lessons. We learned a lot from each other just being there for each other when times are hard and just get through it and being able to overcome certain things makes you stronger as a person."