MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The two top-ranked teams outside the College Football Playoff faced off in the Capital One Orange Bowl, but only sixth-ranked Georgia looked the part Saturday — and that led to some frustration from Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart.
Georgia demolished No. 5 Florida State 63-3 in what was the largest margin of victory in bowl history, topping the Dawgs’ 58-point win over TCU in last season’s national championship game. But the lopsided score was due, in part at least, to a host of opt-outs and injuries for the Seminoles.
“People need to see what happened tonight, and they need to fix this,” Smart said, lamenting the flood of opt-outs and portal entries on teams playing in non-playoff bowl games. “It needs to be fixed. It’s very unfortunate that they have a good football team and a good football program, and they’re in the position they’re in.”
The Seminoles played without their top two quarterbacks, top two running backs, top two receivers, starting tight end, three starting defensive linemen, two of three starting linebackers and three starting defensive backs. They were down 29 scholarship players in all.
FSU head coach Mike Norvell strongly intimated that the College Football Playoff committee’s decision to leave a 13-0 Seminoles team out of the playoff in favor of two one-loss teams — Texas and Alabama — motivated a significant number of his team’s opt-outs.
Florida State beat the Louisville Cardinals 16-6 in the ACC championship game with third-string quarterback Brock Glenn at the helm of a lackluster offense, and the committee used that performance — and the injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis that preceded it — as rationale for keeping an undefeated Power 5 team from the playoff.
“Every situation is different,” Norvell said. “Ours was unique, something that’s never happened in college football. Ultimately, I think there was a lot of things that made it extremely challenging. I fully believe that if we would’ve come up short in the [ACC] championship game, it might’ve been a little different.
“It was hard choices for a lot of the young men that were on our team. We were hurt. … When you do the things that our guys did throughout the year and the way that they responded, the way they fought, the way that they just pulled together, it hurt when we were not selected.”
Florida State defensive tackle Braden Fiske, who missed the game with a foot injury he said he had been trying to rehab throughout December, said the Seminoles were invested in the Orange Bowl and didn’t expect to be blown out. But it was impossible to ignore the sheer volume of missing production from a team that went unbeaten in the regular season.
For his part, Smart said the impact of the opt-outs was notable, and even with an expanded playoff coming next year, the bowls outside the playoff risk becoming glorified scrimmages.
“You can say it’s their fault and they have to solve their own problem,” Smart said. “We had our guys, and they didn’t have their guys. College football has to decide what they want. I know things are changing. But there’s still going to be bowl games outside of those. People need to decide what they want and what they want to get out of it, because it’s really unfortunate for those kids on that sideline that had to play in that game and didn’t have their full arsenal. And it affected the game, 100 percent.”
Smart praised his own team’s buy-in, which included decisions by a number of key seniors to play. Georgia did not have any official opt-outs, though several stars, including tight end Brock Bowers, missed the game due to injury.
“The game mattered just because, if you’re a competitor, then every game matters — every opportunity you get to go out there and play with people you love,” Georgia defensive back Kamari Lassiter said.
Norvell took responsibility for not having his team fully prepared to play Georgia, but he also acknowledged that with so many inexperienced players on the field, FSU fell victim to numerous communication issues and had serious problems with fundamentals and technique.
It’s up for debate how different things would’ve been for the Seminoles with Fiske, Jared Verse, Keon Coleman, Trey Benson and others, but Norvell said he didn’t want the final score of the Orange Bowl to be what defined this FSU team.
“Ultimately, this team did all that I asked them to, and they’re forever champions,” Norvell said. “We went 13 weeks throughout this season, and it’s a physical task, especially with what we faced and winning every one of them and rising up, guys that played hurt, guys that played through every different piece of adversity that could be thrown at them.
“When you overcome that and still have a little — still have the disappointment of not getting to compete for it all, I think that definitely affected some of our situation.”