How Florida State and Virginia Tech Met in the 2000 Sugar BowlThis was a watershed moment for the Sugar Bowl. In the ever-evolving road to the national title, the Bowl Championship Series system, which put the major bowls in an annual line and rotated the site of the match between teams deemed No. 1 and No. 2, made 2000 New Orleans’ turn for the first time.
This time the football battles across the country throughout the fall were of only passing interest to Paul Hoolahan. The executive director of the Nokia Sugar Bowl was sitting in the catbird’s seat, knowing no matter who or what did the rankings, that when all was said and done, the best two teams were going to be paired in his venue. And Hoolahan wouldn’t have to strain himself analyzing every possible angle in the determinations.
He could sit back and wait to see what would present itself.
“Taking the decision-making out of our hands is nice when you know you’re going to have the championship game,” Hoolahan said with a chuckle.
In the trenches, Coach Bobby Bowden had most of his Florida State Seminoles back from the team that came within a game of taking the national championship the year before, including wide receiver Peter Warrick. He was seen as very possibly the best senior player in the land. Bowden also had a superb quarterback in Chris Weinke, who had played several seasons of professional baseball and at 27 was very likely the oldest junior in college football.
Though ranked No. 1 from the preseason polls and on through the regular season, FSU wasn’t always impressive in the early season. Sometimes, as in a 17-14 victory over Clemson, coached by Tommy Bowden, son of the ‘Noles headmaster, Florida State seemed to be getting by strictly on talent, not effort. Still, the Seminoles were getting by.
The ‘Noles weren’t always in sync because a major part of their offense wasn’t always there. Warrick was the missing – then occasionally unsure – component.
He and teammate Laveranues Coles ran into legal problems which resulted in a two-game suspension for Warrick while Coles was dismissed from the squad. Bowden’s team overcame that embarrassing adversity, continued to win – and continued to stay perched atop the computer rankings.
The battle for the No. 2 spot was spirited with unbeaten Virginia Tech, of the perceived not-so-powerful Big East – powered by a will-o’-the-wisp freshman quarterback named Michael Vick – and once beaten Nebraska of the highly respected Big 12 Conference jockeying for position near season’s end.
The computer rankings seemed to color what transpired on the field. When Tech piled up a 62-7 win over Temple, the impression was that the Hokies ran it up to impress the computers.
“I know exactly the position (Tech) is in, so I had no problem at all with what happened,” Coach Bobby Wallace of the Owls said. “They’ve got to worry about these computer rankings.”
Indeed, they did. As they reached the last week of the regular season, just 0.63 points separated Tech and Nebraska. The 10-0 Hokies prepared to play 8-2 Boson College and the 9-1 Cornhuskers had to beat 6-4 Colorado to get a spot in their league’s title game against Texas.
Virginia Tech did what it had to do, rapping the Eagles 38-14, while Nebraska struggled to nip the Buffaloes 33-30 in overtime. The difference in those games allowed the Hokies to stretch their lead in the computer tabulations – and clear a path to the Sugar Bowl and a shot at No. 1.
Story excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.