December 1, 2003 TALLAHASSEE There is a certain segment of Florida State football fans who would have encouraged redshirt junior quarterback Chris Rix to explore his NFL options at the end of the season, which was a rumor that gained steam in late November. Of course, many of those same fans had a different opinion of the much-maligned Rix after he led the Seminoles from behind in their dramatic win at Florida. Hours after the Seminoles' 38-34 win at Florida Field, a bed-sheet banner was hanging from a Tallahassee apartment complex directly across from Doak Campbell Stadium, where the players were checking in. It read: Nice Job, Chris! Just a few weeks earlier, following FSU's loss at Clemson, a sign outside the same complex read: Rix Sux. Such is the life of the Seminoles' quarterback. Rix went from goat after coughing up a fumble that UF's Keiwan Ratliff returned 77 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter to hero with his near-perfect fourth quarter. Rix completed eight of 10 fourth-quarter pass attempts for 156 yards, leading FSU back from a pair of deficits, capped by his game-winning 52-yard touchdown strike to P.K. Sam. He came right back and made up for it, senior linebacker Kendyll Pope said. He basically wiped that fumble away. That's how we looked at it on defense. Nobody was really talking about the fumble he made after the touchdown passes he threw. Pope and his defensive teammates certainly have a better appreciation for the quarterback this season. Though he's still prone to careless mistakes, Rix led FSU to a come-from-behind win against Georgia Tech and had a big hand in pulling out the double-overtime victory against N.C. State. The difference is the maturity and how he's grown up through all the adversity, Pope said. For a guy to take as much stuff as Chris does from the fans and the media there's so much pressure on the quarterback already. For a guy like that to fight through it and have a a great game like that is a sign of maturity. He's going to be a great quarterback next year. He's probably going to be up for the Heisman. Following the game, Bowden was talking about the promising future for FSU's offense, which loses only senior tailback Greg Jones to graduation. And the coach did say he would have to convince Rix to return for his senior season. Nearby, when Bowden made that comment, Rix put his coach at ease. I'll be back, coach, Rix said. What was once a better-or-worse proposition now has a brighter upside, as the Seminoles are back to their 10-win ways heading into another BCS bowl. Bowden Dreaming Of Rose Bowl FSU athletic director Dave Hart lobbied the Rose Bowl for consideration in late November, hoping to fulfill one of Bobby Bowden's lifetime dreams to coach in the Granddaddy of all bowls. Bowden recently listed coaching the Seminoles in the Rose Bowl as one of the top 10 things he would like to do before he retires. With the Rose unable to keep its preferred Pac-10 vs. Big Ten alignment providing Southern Cal stays at No. 2 (or higher) in the BCS rankings the folks in Pasadena will be forced to take an at-large team for the second consecutive year. Bowden certainly has an appeal, especially after eclipsing Penn State coach Joe Paterno as college football's Division I-A wins leader. Just a few years ago, at the ACC Kickoff, the Rose Bowl committee chairman told the coach he hoped he would be able to extend an invitation some day. Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker, however, holds all the cards in the deal. If Junker loses his Big 12 tie-in team (Oklahoma) to the national championship game, he gets the first crack at a replacement. Texas appears to be getting the strongest consideration for that spot. But the Rose also is enamored with a potential matchup of Texas and Michigan, two of the winningest programs in NCAA history, who have never met on the field. Basketball: Strong Depth, Defense Leonard Hamilton's FSU basketball team jumped off to a 4-0 start against an underwhelming assortment of opponents. While it's difficult to assess exactly where the Seminoles are in terms of progress, two positive constants appear to be back in place for Hamilton's second season. The Seminoles' defense, which led the ACC in scoring and was second in field goal percentage last season, was stout in routs of Maine, Georgetown (Ky.) College, Nicholls State and South Carolina State. FSU surrendered just 54 points a game and held those four opponents to 32.1 percent shooting from the floor, 25.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Hamilton was able to maintain that standard while integrating three newcomers and oft-injured Andrew Wilson into the rotation. While Hamilton's track record speaks for itself when it comes to defense, so does his record for developing point guards. Throughout his previous stops and Oklahoma State and Miami, Hamilton put his offense in the hands of lead guards who were fundamentally sound at the defensive end and excelled when it came to decision-making. While those are traits all coaches covet, Hamilton has never put style above substance. With senior Nate Johnson and sophomore backup Todd Galloway at FSU, Hamilton has taken a similar approach. Through the first four games, the duo combined to dish out 35 assists while committing just nine turnovers. What those who didn't follow FSU closely last season probably fail to recognize is that Johnson and Galloway in their first season of ACC play each enjoyed positive assist-to-turnover ratios. Collectively, they distributed 181 helpers while committing 118 turnovers. While it's unreasonable to expect the two to continue their current pace as the quality of competition increases, they almost certainly will improve from a year ago. In addition to proven wing finishers in senior guard Tim Pickett and junior forward Anthony Richardson, two newcomers in the post Alexander Johnson and Al Thornton showed some good things in the early going. Through four games, they shot better than 70 percent from the floor. That kind of offensive reliability hasn't been seen in and around the basket by FSU since the days of Doug Edwards and Rodney Dobard in the early 1990s. More importantly, the play of Johnson and Galloway has rubbed off on teammates, who clearly are looking to share the basketball. Pickett, Richardson, senior forward Michael Joiner and freshman guard Von Wafer all have demonstrated an eagerness to pass up a good shot for a better one by a teammate. If the Seminoles can continue to knock down three-pointers with reasonable accuracy they were at 37 percent entering December in addition to finishing down low, Hamilton's newfound depth should pay dividends even as the schedule toughens.