Excuse Florida State if its celebration for setting the NCAA record for consecutive bowl appearances is a bit muted.
No one in Tallahassee is happy about the way this season turned out, not with the Seminoles’ hopes for making the College Football Playoff dashed by October, coach Jimbo Fisher bolting last week and having to win a rescheduled game against Louisiana-Monroe just to achieve the requisite six victories for bowl eligibility.
Down in Las Cruces, New Mexico, however, they’re partying like it’s 1960. That’s how long it’s been since the Aggies have played in the postseason. The nation’s longest bowl drought ended Sunday when New Mexico State (6-6) accepted an invitation to play Utah State (6-6) in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 29.
It just so happens Utah State was the same opponent that New Mexico State beat in the 1960 Sun Bowl to finish a perfect season.
“I assume that bowl game in 1960 was in November or December, so I’m confident Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States,” athletic director Mario Moccia said. “That puts it in an historical context, doesn’t it?”
The bowl-clinching win Saturday didn’t lack for dramatic flair. New Mexico State trailed South Alabama 17-16 at home in the fourth quarter before Connor Cramer led a 15-play, 83-yard drive he finished with a short pass to Tyler Rogers in the back of the end zone with 32 seconds left.
“It’s providence,” Moccia said.
The 22-17 victory came in front of 26,268, the biggest crowd in years.
“I’ve never seen so many people crying out of joy,” Moccia said. “They didn’t think it was going to happen here. We’re a low-resourced institution and in a geographical area that doesn’t produce many (college) football players.
“It’s akin to the Chicago Cubs. There was such a release of emotion after the game. It was a tremendous day for the long-suffering Aggie fans.”
New Mexico State actually was bowl-eligible after going 7-5 in 2002, but it didn’t receive an invitation.
The drought-breaking bid came in the Aggies’ final season in the Sun Belt Conference. They’ll be an independent starting next year.
Moccia said there never was a doubt Doug Martin-coached New Mexico State would accept an invitation even though there could be costs associated with it for a 16-sport athletic department that chugs along on an $18 million budget. He said he hadn’t gone over the financials yet, and it’s possible the Aggies could lose a little money. He pointed out it helps the game is in Tucson, Arizona, because the team can bus there in less than four hours.
With New Mexico State bowl-bound , Kansas takes over as the team with the longest drought. The Jayhawks’ last bowl was the 2008 Insight.
As for Florida State, the Seminoles’ game against Southern Mississippi (8-4) in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Dec. 27, will mark their 36th straight bowl. FSU broke its tie with Nebraska, which went to 35 bowls from 1969-2003.
The Seminoles started 1-3 but closed the regular season on a three-game win streak in which they’ve outscored opponents 157-38, including Saturday’s 42-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe .
“We are honored to be playing in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl and representing Florida State University in Shreveport,” interim head coach Odell Haggins said in a statement. “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.”