Florida State had all the reasons a team needs not to take the Independence Bowl seriously.
Ranked second before the season began, the Seminoles lost their season opener to Alabama and their quarterback, Deondre Francois, to a patellar tendon injury. They stumbled to a 3-6 record and needed three straight victories, including one after coach Jimbo Fisher departed the day before the regular-season finale to take the Texas A&M job.
With all that as the backdrop, and with their future coach standing behind the end zone to see what he inherits, Florida State instead showed why it could be worthy of national championship consideration next year.
Freshman quarterback James Blackman threw for a bowl-record four touchdowns Wednesday and the defense stoned Southern Mississippi most of the day in a 42-13 blowout at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La.
"I told you we were going to take this game as a championship game and our kids did it with class," interim coach Odell Haggins said. "Let me tell you all something: Florida State will be back."
Haggins, who will be part of Willie Taggart's staff, got the Seminoles (7-6) to ignore all the distractions and shrug off a slovenly start. After ceding a touchdown less than four minutes into the game, in part because of a pair of 15-yard penalties, Florida State basically did whatever it wanted.
That included stifling a Golden Eagles offense that entered the game averaging 29.1 points, scoring a whopping 137 points in their last three games.
Following a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kwadra Griggs with 11:05 left in the first quarter, Southern Mississippi generated just one meaningless score the remainder of the day, collecting only 260 total yards and 12 first downs.
"We just ran to the ball and tackled well," said Seminoles defensive back Nate Andrews, who was named Defensive Player of the Game after making six tackles and breaking up a pass. "Everyone played hard."
Offensively, Florida State flashed a balanced attack, passing for 238 yards and running for another 214. Blackman was efficient, completing 18 of 26 passes for 233 yards and spraying his completions to six different targets.
He made good use of tight end Ryan Izzo, who caught six balls for 59 yards, and even better use of Auden Tate, particularly when it came time to score. Tate had five catches for 84 yards, including touchdowns of 20, 10 and 17 yards.
"My O-line stood in there strong and blocked," Blackman said. "The coaches stuck by my side and told me that you're going to keep us rolling."
Blackman and Tate's 20-yard scoring connection with 5:20 left in the first quarter gave the Seminoles a 7-6 lead that only expanded. It became 14-6 at the 12:38 mark of the second quarter when Blackman found Cam Akers for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
After Ricky Aguayo converted a 29-yard field goal with 7:48 left in the first half, Blackman and Tate hooked up for their second touchdown, a 10-yard strike with 1:33 remaining to send Florida State into the locker room with a 23-6 advantage.
Aguayo's 39-yard field goal and a 2-yard scoring jaunt by Jacques Patrick upped the lead to 33-6 with 3:25 left in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles (8-5) scored their final touchdown on Griggs' 13-yard pass to Korey Robertson with 44 seconds remaining in the period.
The Seminoles tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter. Blackman hit Tate with the 17-yard touchdown toss 35 seconds into the period, and Aguayo connected on another 39-yard field goal at the 7:45 mark.
"It's big because the whole season was hard," Andrews said of the bowl win. "The losing was tough and coach Fisher left us, but Odell didn't give up on us."
Griggs completed 13 of 25 passes, but for only 86 yards. Ito Smith rushed 16 times for 92 yards for Southern Mississippi.
NOTES: Former Florida State defensive back Deion Sanders was on the sidelines Wednesday. Asked by ESPN about reports he could be named to new coach Willie Taggart's staff, Sanders merely said, "I've made a lot of great plays in these colors," referring to his garnet and gold jacket. ... The Seminoles clinched their 41st consecutive winning season. ... This was the first time in three visits that Southern Mississippi lost in the Independence Bowl. It won in 1980 and 1988 under Bobby Collins and Curley Hallman, respectively.