Photo by Bobby McGuffie

By Robert Wilson

       Florida State looked like the best team in the country this past weekend in its 45-24 victory over then No. 5 LSU, scoring 31 consecutive points in the second half and making a statement to a national television audience.

       Southern Miss travels to play Florida State – which moved up to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll – Saturday in Tallahassee.

       The chances of an upset seem pretty slim, and most are expecting a lopsided win by FSU.

       Long time Southern Miss football fans can remember a similar scenario more than 30 years when no one thought the lightly regarded Golden Eagles had a chance to win against mighty Florida State.

       Then junior quarterback Brett Favre – as many know went on to become a Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP, and NFL Hall of Famer – led unranked Southern Miss to a shocking, 30-26 upset of then No. 6 Florida State in the season opener at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

       Some consider it the biggest win in Southern Miss football history.

       “We came here with one thing in mind – beating Florida State. We did it,” Favre said after the game. “We were confident. We didn’t worry that most people thought we were the big underdogs. We have been working hard, real hard. You can’t get into a game expecting to get beat and a lot of people thought we would.”

       Favre – who completed 21 of 39 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns – connected with backup tight end Anthony Harris for a 2-yard TD for the winning score with 23 seconds to play. Harris, then a junior, had never caught a pass in his college career until then.

       Florida State dominated Southern Miss for the past three seasons before the huge upset, winning 49-13 in 1986, 61-10 in 1987 (Favre completed only 5 of 31 passes as a freshman in the game, at that time the worst loss in school history) and 49-13 in 1988 (Favre completed 13 of 36 passes and Deion Sanders – the NFL Hall of Famer, former Jackson State coach and current Colorado coach – intercepted a Favre pass and ran for 39-yard TD 20 seconds into the game).

       Florida State finished 11-1 in 1987 and 1988, finishing No. 2 in the nation in 1987 and No. 3 in 1988.

       The Seminoles were expecting similar results in 1989, but Favre and his teammates didn’t let that happen.

       “They are a good football team, make no mistake about that,” then Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said after the game. “They played so darn well. This was like a home game out there. That’s what’s so amazing. That was our crowd out there. Southern Miss did a great job.”

       “We got some recognition today,” then Southern Miss coach Curley Hallman said after the game. “I told our players if we continue to build and win with our program, good things are going to happen. They did today.”

       The game was originally supposed to be played in Hattiesburg, but Florida State paid Southern Miss $500,000 to move the game to Jacksonville.

       Southern Miss was coming off a 10-2 season and had won the Independence Bowl and with Favre returning was expected to have a pretty good team, but nothing like Florida State.

       Third-year Southern Miss coach Will Hall would love to pull off an upset like Coach Hallman and Favre did in 1989. The Golden Eagles do have some positive momentum, coming off a 40-14 victory over Alcorn State in its season opener. And Southern Miss defeated Rice 38-24 in the Lending Tree Bowl as running back Frank Gore Jr. set a national bowl record with 329 rushing yards.

       Southern Miss’ defense didn’t allow any passing yards in the first half against Alcorn, but Florida State has many more weapons.

The Seminoles are led by Jordan Travis, who is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. He showed it against LSU, throwing for 342 yards and four TDs, and ran for 38 yards and one TD. Then, there is talented running back Trey Benson and star wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson. Coleman, a transfer from Michigan State, had nine catches for 122 yards and three TDs.

Photo by Bobby McGuffie

Gore – Southern Miss’ offensive star last season – is back, but the Golden Eagles will have a tough time keeping up the Seminoles.

Hall knows Florida State very well. He watches every game because he and FSU coach Mike Norvell are longtime friends. Both were Division II stars in the early 2000s, Hall as a quarterback at North Alabama and Norvell as a wide receiver at Central Arkansas, both in the Gulf South Conference. When Norvell became head coach at Memphis in 2016 and he hired Hall in 2018 as associate head coach-tight ends coach. Hall stayed there one year before going to Tulane.

A win over Florida State Saturday (7:30 p.m. on the ACC Network), would be an even bigger accomplishment than in 1989. It would definitely be ahead of schedule for Hall’s program.

“There’s no way to measure that,” Hall said when asked how big a win it would be. “It would cause us to leapfrog and skip about four or five steps towards getting back to trying to be the best Group of Five program in America.”

Since the 1989 upset, the two teams have played twice, Florida State winning both, 42-13 in the Independence Bowl in 2017 in Shreveport and 54-14 at Tallahassee in 1996.

       Hall has high praise for this year’s Florida State team.

       “They are probably the best team I’ve ever coached against,” Hall said. “We played Alabama in ’21 (then No. 2 Alabama defeated Southern Miss 63-14 in Tuscaloosa) and they played for the national title. I think this team is a little better than them. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, a tremendous opportunity to go over there and represent our program the right way against an elite opponent in an elite venue and see how much we have grown since we played Bama in a situation like this. Our guys are excited about it.”