It's been three years since Bobby Bowden was on the sideline for the first Saturday in September, but he's no less a fixture in the college football landscape. Bowden remains a prominent figure in the sport, and football remains a prominent part of his life.
So as Florida State and the rest of the nation gets set for another season -- and on the eve of Bowden's induction into the FSU Hall of Fame -- NoleNation sat down with the legendary coach for his take on what's in store for the Seminoles, the ACC and the rest of college football in 2012.
NoleNation: I'm sure it's a lot different for you these days, but do you still get excited for the start of a new college football season?
Bobby Bowden: I really do. Now that I've retired -- when you're coaching you don't have time to watch other people, you only watch yourself. Now I'm able to watch everybody, and I really enjoy it, and I'm very excited about this football season.
NN: Now that you're not coaching, what is a typical Saturday in the fall like for you?
Bowden: During football season, No. 1, if I have an early golf game, I'm not going to miss it. I get done around 12. But a Saturday for me, I get up early, we have a standard tee-off time on Saturday morning, so you're going to play golf. Then I come home and I sit down and start watching football games. I watch all day, probably up until 12 at night. I have to vote. I vote for the Legends Poll, a bunch of head coaches that don't coach anymore -- probably 20 of us. So I try to watch everybody I can so I can vote in that poll.
NN: There are plenty of college football people who think Florida State has a chance to be in the hunt for the national championship this year. What do you make of this year's team?
Bowden: I hope they're correct. I think they're the strongest they've been in the last 13 years. In '99 we won the national championship, and in 2000, we played in it and lost it. Since then, this is probably the strongest team that Florida State has had. Now they've just got to go out and do it. The way I look at them, I think as long as they win, they'll be favored every game. I don't see anybody on their schedule that would be favored over them.
NN: You've certainly coached your share of great teams here, and you've seen a few that were expected to be great and fell short. What is it, in your mind, that might set this team apart as one that can really follow through?
Bowden: I think the big difference is another year of experience. Last year they had good talent, and everybody recognized that talent, and they picked them high. But they didn't play with the maturity that you've got to play with to win a national championship. Now, they've got nearly all those boys back, and you figure they've learned their lesson last year. They should be improved.
NN: There are a handful of players on this roster -- EJ Manuel, Brandon Jenkins, Lonnie Pryor -- that you recruited and that played for you. Are you rooting a little more for those guys to have a chance to go out on top?
Bowden: You really do. It gives you a little personal relationship with the team knowing that some of those boys are boys you spent time in their living room, recruited them, watched them play, and to see them going into their last year -- there's not many of them left that were there when I was there -- but there's still a sprinkling of them out there. But Jimbo has recruited real well. He's recruited as well as anywhere in the country. So once they get that confidence and that maturity level like it ought to be, I think they'll be right back in the competition.
NN: A lot is made of whether or not Florida State can get back to the glory years that you had here in the 1980s and 90s. But given how much the game has changed, do you think it's possible for a program to consistently win at that level anymore?
Bowden: I think it gets tougher every year. Every year it becomes less likely. It could happen, but coaches don't stay on jobs as long as they used to, universities fire them quicker than they used to. I don't know if you'll get a program with the consistency. Just take right now, the hottest coach in the country is probably Nick Saban at Alabama. But how long is he going to stay? Is he going to stay 10 more years? Twelve more years? The coaches are just not likely to stay that long anymore. Although, someone might.
NN: So as you look around the country right now, which teams jump out to you as the real contenders to win it all this year?
Bowden: I still think Alabama and LSU are two of the most powerful programs in the country. We hear about Southern Cal, but I'm not as high on Southern Cal for one reason: I don't know if they have the depth. Their starting lineup is going to be as good as anybody in the country, but what if you get that key guy hurt? Do you have somebody to replace them? That's where Alabama and LSU are kind of ahead of the rest of the country. And maybe Florida State.
NN: If Florida State did win it all, that would certainly be a boon for the ACC. For the past six years though, the SEC has dominated the national scene. What do you think the other conferences need to do to catch up?
Bowden: Those things go in cycles. Right now, it's the SEC's cycle. It might go 10 years. Then maybe the Big 12 will start putting it all together, or maybe the ACC. They talk so much now about the SEC, which is deserving. But you remember 25 years ago when Miami and Florida State won the national championship every year. We had the cycle back then. Now it's the SEC's. I don't think it will last forever, so somebody -- I just don't think it will last forever.