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Has FSU’s kick return unit returned to elite status?

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The numbers, against stiff competition, suggest so.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State’s slow starts have been a hindrance to the Seminoles ever since its national title season of 2013. And that season’s success was in no small part due to some great starting field position. During that campaign, the ’Noles averaged more kick-return yards than any other FBS program in the country, at 28.16 yards per attempt. But even when things didn’t go too swimmingly in the return game, FSU had Jameis Winston on hand to compensate and quickly make up the field position.

Since 2013, Florida State has somewhat flailed in the return game, dropping as low as No. 88, nationally, in 2014, and punctuated by a No. 36 finish in 2016. This has made it even tougher for first-year quarterback starters Everett Golson and Deondre Francois to drive down the field and put points on the board. Tough ACC defenses are one thing— working out of the shadow of one’s own goalpost is quite another.

This year, a whole new QB challenge has been issued, to James Blackman, the first starting true-freshman signal-caller at FSU since 1985. But despite deficiencies from pretty much every offensive position group around him, Blackman has not been failed by the Florida State kick-return unit that stages his prospective drives.

After three games, all of which came against power-five conference opponents, the Seminoles are averaging more yards per kickoff return (31.63) than all but four FBS schools: San Diego State, Wyoming, Ohio State, and Nebraska. And every one of those schools, save Florida State, has its stats padded by non-P5 competition.

Following FSU’s win over Wake Forest, I wrote about the upward trajectory of the Seminoles’ special teams. And let’s not forget that their kick-return average could be much higher were it not for a somehwat-quesionable flag on Derwin James’ game-opening KR TD vs. Wake Forest. For as much heat as they rightfully absorbed after the Alabama debacle, it appears that this is certainly one aspect of FSU football about which ’Nole fans should again feel excitement and promise. It bodes well for both Florida State and Blackman’s offense.