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The Times Duke Football Beat Bobby Bowden’s Teams, Part I

Hint: it wasn't his Florida State teams

University of West Virginia Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, WV - CIRCA 1970-75: Bobby Bowden head coach of the University of West Virginia Mountaineers observes the game from the sideline in Morgantown, West Virginia , circa 1970-75.
Photo by West Virginia/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

I’m not going to pretend that I knew Bobby Bowden well. But I know people who knew Bowden well. Some of them covered him while he was at FSU, others worked with him in FSU’s sports media department. And to a person they agree that in this rare occasion, the man and the myth matched. By all accounts Bobby Bowden was a genuinely good human being.

Certainly not the kind of person to run up the score.

Which just accentuates how one-sided was the Duke-Florida State rivalry when Bowden was at Florida State.

Of course, calling this a rivalry is pushing it more than a little. But calling it one-sided might be an understatement.

Duke and Florida State had never met in football before Florida State joined the ACC in 1990, as the ACC’s ninth team. FSU’s first year in ACC football was 1992. ACC football was round-robin in those days and Duke played Bowden and Florida State every year from 1992 until 2007.

Duke lost all 16 of those games and none were ever close. I’m not sure if Duke ever led Bowden’s ‘Noles but it they did it wasn’t for very long.

It’s not just that Duke went 0-16, it’s also the totality of the losses. Bowden won two national titles in Tallahassee. His 1993 team thrashed Duke 45-7 and his 1999 team won 51-23. Fred Goldsmith’s first Duke team began the 1994 season 7-0 and was ranked 20th when they went south to play ninth-ranked Florida State.

Was there a chance?

Nope. Final score 59-20.

The closest Duke came to beating FSU in the Bowden era was 25-6 in 2007 and that’s not especially close.

On the other hand, Duke lost to the ‘Noles by 49 points, three times, 62-13 in 1998, 63-14 in 2000 and 56-7 in 2003.

Florida State outscored Duke 812 to 256 over this span, an average score of 51-16.

Ouch. That’s what happens when one of the most successful runs in college-football history meets a struggling program.

But Florida State wasn’t Bobby Bowden’s first rodeo. He came there after a successful six-year stint at West Virginia. But “successful” is a relative term. West Virginia’s teams under Bowden were good but not national-title good.

Two different Duke coaches proved that.