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College Football Preview 2023: 9. Florida State Seminoles

Jordan Travis, Florida State

9. Florida State Seminoles

Is FSU ready to take the next step and be College Football Playoff good? How they handle raised expectations will determine the end results in Tallahassee

2022 Review
Mike Norvell made solid progress in Year Two in Tallahassee, and the hope for the ultra-important third year was a bowl game. It quickly became clear the Seminoles were not only good enough to return to the postseason, but even higher honors were in play. They jumped out to a 4-0 start, which included a thrilling 24-23 victory over eventual SEC West Champion LSU, but fell back to Earth during a tough three-game stretch that included losses to Wake Forest, NC State, and Clemson. But with all three losses being close, that stretch seemed to galvanize the Seminoles instead of going the opposite direction and they were the ACC's top team over the final month-and-a-half of the season. They took care of business by beating their final three ACC foes and then beat Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida to wrap up the regular season with a 9-3 record. The Cheez-It Bowl matchup with Oklahoma ended up being a closer contest than it appeared on paper, but Florida State still managed to come out on top and take home their first 10-win campaign since 2016. By doubling their win total in just one season, the program has completely altered the expectations surrounding them. Heading into 2023, they have their eyes on an ACC Title and a College Football Playoff appearance, creating a buzz and energy around Tallahassee that has been sorely missing in recent years.

2023 Outlook
Offense: It took a bit of time for Norvell's offense to catch on here, but by the end of 2022 this was one of the most potent attacks in college football. A large part of that can be credited to quarterback Jordan Travis, who was one of the ACC's breakout stars, throwing for over 3,000 yards and totaling 31 touchdowns.

I'll be the first to admit, I did not see that type of performance coming from Travis. He was always a dynamic runner, but his growth as both a passer and leader has been a joy to watch. If he continues on his upwards trajectory, he's not just the top quarterback in the league, but should be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Joining Travis in the Florida State backfield will be a deep running back room, spearheaded by rising star Trey Benson. Although he split carries last fall, Benson was the most explosive back on the roster and finished with 990 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. With Treshaun Ward transferring to Florida State, he's clearly the feature option in 2023, although Lawrence Toafili and former Penn State transfer Caziah Holmes will also factor in heavily.

There's reason to believe Florida State's receiver corps could be the best in the ACC this fall, as this unit took major steps forward a season ago and added several pieces over the offseason. The growth of former Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson has been a game-changer for the program; the 6'7", 240-pounder is the type of athlete who can come with any contested ball in his vicinity, and he's quicker than you would assume. He earned All-ACC recognition in 2022 and will enter this year as the guy on the outside, although Michigan State transfer Keon Coleman might have something to say about that. Coleman, who notched 798 yards on a bad Spartans team last season, is one of the most purely talented receivers anywhere in college football. Now that he has the right quarterback getting him the ball, he has a chance to absolutely terrorize opponents.

Coleman and Wilson will lead the way at receiver, but there are other pieces in this room that really intrigue me. Junior Ja'Khi Douglas is the type of versatile, do-it-all slot receiver that is becoming more common around college football. At 5'9", 190 pounds, Douglas is perfect for finding gaps in coverage underneath and with his burst, he can bust games open at any time. However, the player I find most intriguing farther down the depth chart is Destyn Hill. The top recruit in Florida State's 2021 Class, Hill would have his enrollment delayed for two years due to personal reasons. He has been on the field during fall camp and appears ready to go, infusing even more talent into this receiver corps.

Tight end got an upgrade over the offseason, as Norvell and staff brought in one of the top portal names at the position in South Carolina's Jaheim Bell. Bell is one of the most athletic players you'll find at the position and should provide even more playmaking to this offense. Kyle Morlock, a two-time All-American at Division II Shorter University, also comes on but will be used more for his blocking prowess than Bell.

Florida State's improvement along the offensive line has one of the primary reasons for their overall growth, as this unit has evolved into a legitimate strength. They return a pair of players who earned All-ACC honors last fall in center Maurice Smith and left tackle Robert Scott and also did work in the portal, landing Jeremiah Byers from UTEP and Casey Roddick from Colorado. There's a staggering amount of experience throughout the unit, with a jaw-dropping 206 career starts total.

This is the most complete Florida State offense we've seen since they won a National Title in 2013. Jordan Travis is the real deal, and he has loads of weapons joining him at the skill positions, all operating behind one of the nation's top offensive lines. It's hard to imagine any scenario in which is not only one of the best in the ACC, but among the best anywhere in America.

Defense: Even without reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State's defense took steps forward in 2022. They finished allowing just 20.6 points per game, their best numbers since 2015. There's a chance for even better numbers in 2023 as just about big name is back, including star defensive end Jared Verse.

Verse transferred from Albany prior to last season and had no issues adjusting to life in the Power Five. On the contrary, Verse was one of the best anywhere in the nation, finishing with 48 tackles and nine sacks, even though he missed several games due to injury. He would have been a first-round selection this spring most likely, but instead opted for one more go in Tallahassee.

Verse is the name to watch on the defensive line, but multiple starters return alongside him and the Seminoles also brought on Braden Fiske from Western Michigan, an All-MAC honoree. Senior nose tackle Fabien Lovett is the tone-setter in the middle of the unit, a surprisingly athletic player for his size, while Patrick Payton was very impressive last fall and should take advantage of blockers focusing on Verse on the opposite end. Gilber Edmond also arrives from South Carolina after making ten starts for the Gamecocks, providing even more pass rushing ability to this unit. 

The linebacker corps will be a strength in 2023, as just about every key piece is back, including former UCF transfer Tatum Bethune. Bethune finished second on the team with 84 tackles last fall and is a reliable, proven leader in the middle. He'll be flanked by senior Kalen DeLoach and nickelback Jarrian Jones, two other defenders who have see plenty of snaps in Tallahassee. DeLoach is a major help as a coverage linebacker, recording seven pass deflections a season ago.

Losing Jammie Robinson hurts the back-end, but Norvell and staff responded by landing one of the top names in the portal in Fentrell Cypress from Virginia. Cypress was a four-year contributor at Virginia who has shown an ability to take on top receivers and shut them down. He's likely to slide into a starting spot right away, with senior Renardo Green manning the other one.

There's a quality safety duo also back, as Akeem Dent and Kevin Knowles will handle things once again. Dent is a former high-profile recruit looking to end his FSU career with a bang, while Knowles has gotten each year and should be a playmaker at the free safety spot. Depth is a slight concern behind them, which could be an interesting storyline to watch into the fall.

Coordinator Adam Fuller has done an excellent job rebuilding what was once a proud defense and there's reason to believe the unit could get even better in 2023. With Verse, Bethune, and Cypress, there's plenty of star power, but the unit has proven to be more disciplined under Fuller than previous coaches. That should pave the way for another successful campaign.

Special Teams: There's an interesting position battle unfolding at the kicker position, as East Tennessee State transfer Tyler Keltner is battling holdover Ryan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald struggled early on last season before finding his rhythm late, but he'll be hard-pressed to hold off the highly accomplished Keltner. At punter, Alex Mastromanno is fresh off a quality 2022 in which he averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

Bottom Line
It always felt like only a matter of time before Florida State was back to competing for National Titles, but that shouldn't discredit the work Norvell has done. He's done an excellent job fixing the culture problem left to him by Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart, while improving the product on the field. The question is, can he finish the job and bring this program back to a National Championship Game? This group certainly has the tools to do it, with loads of talent and a star quarterback. But, the schedule offers plenty of land mines and taking that final jump is always the hardest. I have them just a step below Clemson in the ACC but it certainly would not shock me if they overtake the mighty Tigers and return to their first College Football Playoff in a decade. 

Program Profile
Coaching Staff
Mike Norvell has had an impressive rise in the coaching ranks, going from a grad assistant at Central Arkansas in 2006 to Florida State in a decade-and-a-half. Florida State is just his second head coaching job, as he went 38-15 over four seasons at Memphis. After a 3-6 debut during the weird COVID campaign, he has gone 5-7 and then 10-3 last season. At offensive coordinator, Alex Atkins is a name to watch as a likely future head coach. He joined Florida State in 2020 after serving as OC at Charlotte and after two years as the OL coach here, he was named the offensive coordinator prior to last season. Defensively, Adam Fuller holds the coordinator title, although former Miami head man Randy Shannon is technically the co-DC. Fuller bounced around before joining up with Norvell in 2019, including a stint as head coach at Division II Assumption University. 

Recruiting Breakdown
Norvell and staff have put an extra emphasis on the transfer portal, which has naturally led high school recruiting to take a slight dip. Even so, the Seminoles bring in a Top 20 Class, one punctuated by five-star wide out Hykeem Williams, who they managed to keep in the state. The 6'3", 200-pounder already looks the part and has freakish athleticism, he's going to make a major impact in Tallahassee. The rest of the class is a nice mix of prospects throughout the roster, including a high upside tackle in Austin Simmons and well-built linebacker, Blake Nichelson, who they landed from the West Coast. There's also four-star quarterback Brock Glenn, a former Ohio State commit who has plenty of potential. He's probably heading to a redshirt year, but could be the guy down the line once Travis has moved on.

2023 Schedule Analysis
Florida State's 2023 begins the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, as they will play in a neutral site contest against LSU. The Seminoles overcame LSU last season in a 24-23 thriller, but the Tigers present an awfully stiff challenge, and are favored in the matchup. After a short week game at home against Southern Miss, ACC play kicks off with Boston College on the road. The Seminoles then have to travel to Death Valley to take on Clemson in what could be a preview of the ACC Championship Game. The Seminoles have lost seven straight in the series and overcoming the Tigers has to be one of the top priorities for Norvell and staff. The bye comes right after before things pick up again with Virginia Tech at home. After five more ACC contests, the annual Miami rivalry game will take place on November 11th, the final conference game of Florida State's season. They will get a nice reprieve with North Alabama before they duel with Florida, which is in Gainesville this year. Florida is just another tough road test for a team that has to travel to BC, Clemson, Wake Forest, and Pittsburgh. That's about as difficult of a road slate as you will get in the ACC and will determine whether FSU is truly ready to be mentioned again as one of the sport's elite teams.

2023 X-Factor: Jordan Travis, QB
Jordan Travis is a great example of how young college quarterbacks can grow into their own. During the 2020 season, he made five starts and the results were uneven. He completed 55% of his passes and finished with a 6-6 TD-INT ratio on a bad FSU team. Fast forward to last season, he's one of the best anywhere in the country, earning All-ACC honors after finishing with 31 total touchdowns. Is there another level he can hit this fall? If Travis goes from being All-ACC good to Heisman good, it naturally raises the ceiling for this team. They go from being a National Title contender to a National Title favorite and the clear top dog in the conference. That's a lot to ask from Travis, but he's already the most accomplished FSU signal-caller since Jameis Winston and seems hungry for more. That could make all the difference for the Seminoles in 2023.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC, Lose ACC Championship Game)
Offensive MVP: QB Jordan Travis
Defensive MVP: DE Jared Verse
Impact Freshman: WR Hykeem Williams
Impact Transfer: CB Fentrell Cypress
Breakout Player of the Year: TE Jaheim Bell

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