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Roundtable: What should we expect from FSU football in 2023?

Analyzing Florida State on offense, defense and everything in between

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

Florida State Seminoles football is just two days away from being back.

For the first time since 2017, FSU heads into the season with lofty expectations — ranked No. 8 in both the USA Today Coaches Poll and AP Top 25, the Seminoles have been a trendy pick to both shake up the current Clemson-centric hierarchy in the ACC and to crash the College Football Playoff party in the final year of the four-team format.

Quarterback Jordan Travis, who already holds a multitude of records both school and conference, is also one of the favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy — currently, DraftKings gives him the third-best odds to take home the stiff-armed trophy (+1400) behind LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels (+1100) and reigning winner Caleb Williams (+450).

The hype isn’t unfounded — Florida State returns the bulk of its production (80% on offense, 79% on defense according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly) and has also added major names through the transfer portal and good ol’ fashioned high school recruiting. Those names include wide receivers Keon Coleman and Destyn Hill, tight ends Jaheim Bell and Kyle Morlock, defensive tackle Braden Fiske and defensive back Fentrell Cypress II.

The Seminoles will be tested early, starting with a neutral site matchup in Orlando vs. the LSU Tigers and then three weeks later vs. the Clemson Tigers on September 22. With the ACC having done away with divisions starting in 2023, there’s a good chance that FSU and Clemson meet once more in the ACC Championship game if each takes care of business following that early season matchup.

Ahead of the season opener, we’ve gathered some of Tomahawk Nation’s brightest minds to tackle storylines offense, defense and everything in between.

Florida State on offense: Firepower, firepower, firepower

  • Which position group is more essential to Florida State’s success — running backs or wide receivers?

Jon Marchant: Wide receivers, but both, really? I think Mike Norvell’s coaching career speaks to his commitment to matching his offense to its personnel. It’s wild how far this position group has come in just a few years, but the receiving corp is deep and talented and your quarterback is a Heisman hopeful.

Why I hedge with “both” is the running backs are deep and talented too; not as much as the receivers, but certainly good enough that defenses will constantly be stressed by how many defenders they choose to leave or not leave in the box.

Brian Pellerin: Wide receivers have to be the answer. They need a consistent option to develop. We’ve been looking for it for a couple years now. Johnny Wilson developed into a monster big game threat. He’s a matchup nightmare. No question about it. But they absolutely need a guy who can win those short yardage battles to move the changes. I have a ton of faith in Benson and Toafili as a one-two punch at RB for any down and distance. FSU still doesn’t have that go-to in that consistent go-to in the passing game. That’s what they need to hit the ceiling.

Perry Kostidakis: If we’re going for the “correct” answer, then technically running backs because that’s the way that Mike Norvell likes his offense to flow. But it has to be receivers, if only because the group that FSU has built up is ridiculous. If they can live up to the expectations even slightly, then the effect on the offense is going to be immediate, especially in a season opener vs. a team that is still trying to solidify its secondary.

Jon Loesche: Wide Receivers. Running back is a known commodity for FSU at this point. Johnny Wilson is a big play threat but right now do you trust him to make the catch on a 3rd and 8? Keon Coleman needs to become that guy for Jordan Travis.

Juan Montalvo: Running backs. This offense has long depended on the success of the running game, and how it opens up the field both in the air and on the ground for Jordan Travis. If the backs aren’t getting what FSU need them to get, the offense doesn’t work.

NoleThruandThru: Wide receivers, of course! Although I think the tight ends are going to be more important than ever this season, as Norvell finally has a TE corps that will allow him to run the multiple TE sets he loves so much.

  • Trey Benson gets ____ carries this season

Jon Marchant: 175. He gets a little bit of a bigger share than he did last season, but Norvell is too much of a believer in sharing carries for Benson to cross 200.

Brian Pellerin: I’m with Jon. Struggling to see Trey crossing 200 especially because I expect them to be able to run away from a bunch of the teams on their schedule. That has me thinking there may be a few 10 carry games where Norvell can work in some younger guys.

Jon Loesche: Barring injuries to other RBs on the roster I’ll concur with Jon M. Between splitting carries and riding the pine in the 4th quarter, I expect Benson will get 15 or fewer carries most games.

NoleThruandThru: Everyone else said 175? I’ll say 176. RIP, Bob Barker.

Perry Kostidakis: 174 — everybody else said smarter words than me, so it’s time to game the system baby.

  • Will Jordan Travis throw for over 3,400 yards?

Jon Marchant: Yes. Travis threw for 3,214 yards last season with Johnny Wilson and the solid Mycah Pittman as his leading receivers. With Keon Coleman, Destyn Hill, and Jaheim Bell in the fold, (plus others!) the only problem is there’s only one ball to go around.

Brian Pellerin: This is a great line. Playing 14 games this season, I’d have to say yes. That’s sub-250 yards per game. Thirteen games might be a little closer if they have a couple games where they lean heavy on the rushing attack. I’ll still say yes because I think a lot of teams are going to try to stop rushing attack first and a quick strike long TD could stack yards fast.

Jon Loesche: Yes. If the WR room is half as good as some FSU fans are hyping it up to be, the number should be 4,000.

Perry Kostidakis: I’m with the Jons — and more specifically, the Loesche edition. As a head coach, Norvell’s offenses have produced two plus-4000 yard passing seasons (Riley Ferguson threw for 4257 in 2016, Brady White logged 4014 in 2019) and if the offense gets humming right off the bat — a major possibility, giving the way the schedule is set up — then Travis could very well set the Florida State single-season record in 2023 (4,167).

Juan Montalvo: Maybe? It depends how defenses choose to play FSU. I know that’s a bit of a cop out, but it’s the truth. How can we expect opponents to defend this team? If Jordan throws for 400 yards a couple times early, teams will try to squat - and the run game opens up. As much as Norvell likes to rely on the run, the yards given will be taken.

It’s hard for me to say yes based on that but more importantly the shortened games we are slated to see with the new rulesets. That’s already had an impact on shortened games, and I’d imagine the weaker teams scheduled being beat bad will take advantage of the ability to shorten the game drastically compared to what we’ve seen.

NoleThruandThru: Yes, and the difference will be the tight ends. I expect that unit to accumulate at least 750 combined total yards this season.

  • What’s more likely — a 1000-yard receiver or 1000-yard rusher?

Jon Marchant: Not being cheeky when I say I think they are equally likely because I think both happen.

Brian Pellerin: 1,000 yard rusher. Benson will be on the field a lot and getting the ball a lot. There are enough receiving options for yardage that I could see it being a bit more spread out from game-to-game.

Jon Loesche: Rusher. Benson will likely get enough carries to go over 1,000 yards. I think Wilson and Coleman will finish with right around 900 yards each but either getting over 1,000 wouldn’t shock me.

Juan Montalvo: Receiver - shortened games again, and that simply favors the guys who stop the clock more often and lengthen games. Also simply easier for a WR to rip a huge TD that pads stats.

Perry Kostidakis: I’m going rusher, just because Benson was thisclose to making it happen in 2022. There’s too many weapons for a singular receiver to dominate, but Benson will be able to rack up the yards as FSU’s workhorse.

NoleThruandThru: Rusher. I think Trey Benson will finish with around 1,200 yards behind a better offensive line this season. Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman will keep each other from hitting that 1,000 yard mark, but I think it’s very likely that each of them hits at least 800.

  • Does FSU match, exceed or fall short of its 2022 production?

Jon Marchant: Exceed. This offense is absolutely loaded. Its only real weakness or question mark is how the pass protection holds up against the best pass rushes on the schedule. That, and injuries.

Perry Kostidakis: Exceed, which is saying something the way the offense burst to life last season. Norvell’s offenses went wild at Memphis when he got the right pieces, and he’s assembled pretty much your ideal high-energy attack to rack up plenty of production.

Brian Pellerin: I’m going exceeds. This offense is stacked. I think Coleman is the piece they needed. They’ll absolutely take off if they’ve got a consistent chain mover.

Jon Loesche: Exceed. Keon Coleman should provide a legitimate second option for the offense which it sorely needed.

Juan Montalvo: Exceeds. Even with shortened games, this team is stacked and I do think the more favorable schedule helps them get there.

NoleThruandThru: If the output on offense isn’t exceeded this season, something is very wrong.

Florida State Defense: Can Seminoles take the next step and dominate?

  • Which position group takes a bigger leap this season — linebackers or defensive backs?

Jon Marchant: The secondary. I am hoping that Fentrell Cypress changes this defense and what he allows defensive coordinator Adam Fuller to do scheme-wise.

Brian Pellerin: Basically stealing all of Jon’s material. Fentrell Cypress could go lockdown mode this year and really free up this secondary to be super aggressive. He can unlock this group.

Juan Montalvo: Defensive backs is the choice, I think. The gentlemen above are correct on Cypress. I also think this defensive line will generate a bit more pressure which will help the backfield look good.

Perry Kostidakis: Fentrell Cypress II.

Jon Loesche: Has to be the secondary just because of the addition of Fentrell Cypress.

NoleThruandThru: Just for the sake of being different, I’ll go linebackers. Kalen Deloach has grown into a leader, it’ll be year two in the system for Tatum Bethune, and DJ Lundy will continue to improve on his body transformation.

  • Over/under 10 sacks for Jared Verse this season?

Jon Marchant: Haha, this is a tough question. I want to say yes, easily. But everyone knows who he is and if any coach on the other sideline is worth their salt they’ll have a plan for him - whether that’s the quick pass game, chipping with a RB, variations of the zone read, or all of the above and more. Verse might hit 10 anyway.

Brian Pellerin: Sign me up for over. There are enough weak opponents on the schedule that I think he can have a couple multi-sack games.

Jon Loesche: Push? He’ll absolutely be game planned around against to start the season but I think Braden Fiske could assert himself as the season goes on, allowing Verse some more one on ones as the season progresses.

Perry Kostidakis: I’m cheating because I’m writing this after watching the Florida vs. Utah game, but my answer is over because he might get 10 in a single game vs. that offense.

NoleThruandThru: Over. I’m not betting against that dude.

  • Will FSU exceed its turnover total from 2022 (16)?

Jon Marchant: I think so, yes. I could be wrong, but if I remember correctly they weren’t exactly lucky with turnovers vs what you’d typically expect given their chances. That could regress to the mean this season.

Brian Pellerin: Absolutely have to. They were 84th in the country in turnovers a year ago. Can’t imagine that happens again. Turnover luck regression coming.

Jon Loesche: Have to exceed in order to meet expectations so I say yes.

NoleThruandThru: Yes, and I think it’ll come through more forced fumbles.

Perry Kostidakis: Florida State was No. 56 in the country in turnover luck last season, according to Bill Connelly. Strengthing the secondary and reinforcing the front seven is going to pay dividends in improving that.

  • Which statistic will be more impressive by the end of the season — passing yards allowed or rushing yards allowed?

Jon Marchant: I’ll go with passing yards allowed. I think the play on the back end will be good and a lot of the QB talent around the ACC has fallen off a bit from recent seasons.

Brian Pellerin: I’ll go rushing allowed just because of a healthy Fabian Lovett. When he was there last year, they were phenomenal.

Jon Loesche: Passing yards allowed. FSU possibly dodges Drake Maye and the rest of the ACC has been a major QB drain.

Perry Kostidakis: Rushing for me, because that’s a number I’m honing in on as a benchmark of defensive improvement in 2023.

NoleThruandThru: Passing yards allowed. The quality of opposing quarterbacks through the air is not as good as the quality of opposing mobile quarterbacks and running backs.

  • Where does FSU need to improve the most from last season to take a step forward?

Jon Marchant: Forcing offenses to kick field goals instead of touchdowns. They were in the top 15 or so last season in yards per play and yards per drive allowed, but were around 30th or so in points per drive and touchdowns per drive allowed. A lot of that comes down to getting off the field on 3rd downs.

Brian Pellerin: Turnovers. This team is already going to be explosive on offense. If they get even a handful of extra short fields, they’ll put teams away early and often.

Perry Kostidakis: I’m repeating what I literally just said, but solidifying its rush defense. The reincorporation of Lovett and introduction of Fiske should be major for making that happen, but if FSU can learn how to shut down the run game with its talent in the pass rush and newly infused secondary skill, the defense’ll be humming at a championship level.

Jon Loesche: Turnovers and not giving up big plays.

Juan Montalvo: Finishing drives, both sides of the ball. This will make a bigger difference in the win column than anything else - get that third down conversion and you win more drives.

NoleThruandThru: Forcing turnovers. Finishing anywhere near 84th nationally again isn’t acceptable.

Final 2023 thoughts: What will Florida State do this season?

  • Outside of Jordan Travis, who is the most valuable player for FSU this season?

Jon Marchant: Other players on this team are better, but I say Fabien Lovett because of what he provides in terms of run defense. It was noticeably and significantly worse when Lovett was out last season. Maybe the ascendant talent behind him this season makes that a non-factor, but until that’s proven true I think FSU needs Lovett.

Brian Pellerin: Give me Keon Coleman. I’m putting a lot of pressure on this kid, but everyone I’ve spoken to who covered him in high school back in Louisiana says he’s that guy. I’m excited to see him in this offense.

Jon Loesche: Fabien Lovett. Defensive tackle is arguably the thinnest spot on the roster and Lovett’s injuries was a big part of the October slide last season.

Perry Kostidakis: I get to say Jared Verse and be the only one? Awesome, that makes things way easier — he’s going to maybe seem invisible for stretches due to opposing teams targeting him in game-planning, but that’s what his talent demands. His overall presence is going to be felt in the game plan and the hope is that the change in 2023 is there’s too much to deal with for that to shake FSU off its game.

Juan Montalvo: Lovett. Totally agree with The Jon’s. Defensive tackle is such a massive spot where difference makers and depth can change a game over four quarters.

NoleThruandThru: Kalen Deloach. I’m going with the position that has the biggest drop-off in talent and experience behind the starter. Deloach has really come into his own and offers a skill set that no other experienced FSU linebacker can replicate. I’d hate to see the younger linebackers pushed into duty too early if he goes out. At least with Lovett, there’s a deep and talented interior DL room behind him.

  • What is the most challenging game on Florida State’s regular season schedule?

Jon Marchant: Clemson. It means more than the LSU game, and Clemson is still overall a more talented roster. It’s time to get over that hump.

Brian Pellerin: Clemson. To steal the words of the 16x world champion Ric Flair, to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. FSU might even have to beat them twice to be the man.

Jon Loesche: Clemson. The Tigers have more talent, have won 7 straight in the series and Death Valley has become to modern FSU what the Orange Bowl was to Bobby Bowden in the 80s and early 90s.

Juan Montalvo: Clemson. Death Valley away has been a problem for even the best FSU teams, and Clemson will play near their best against the Seminoles. I don’t see a 2013 type game, it’s just not the style Travis or Norvell like or are built for.

NoleThruandThru: Clemson, especially knowing that FSU may have to play them twice in one season.

Perry Kostidakis: This is not to be contrarian, but I really do think its LSU — just like last season, a win would serve as a sign to the team that this is real. A loss to Clemson stings hard but it's not as shattering to ACC hopes as it would’ve been a season ago. Taking the wind out of the sails in Week 1 would affect perception for the rest of the season, from the playoff race to Jordan Travis’ Heisman hopes.

  • Which game can FSU afford to lose? Which game is a must-win?

Jon Marchant: Not sure how to answer this question because divisions are now gone. You can afford to lose to Clemson but that makes every other ACC game a must-win. You can beat Clemson and can still only afford to drop one other ACC game - take your pick. The LSU game doesn’t really matter for their season goals.

Brian Pellerin: Most afford to lose is LSU because it’s non-conference early in the year against a team that will likely compete for an SEC title. You won’t get penalized for that one. The must-win is Clemson, but I’ll throw out someone like Miami because I think you can beat LSU, lose to Clemson and still make the ACC title game and have CFP hopes. You’d likely need to run the table against the other ACC teams to get there so I’ll say Miami as a rival is the most challenging one you need.

Jon Loesche: LSU is the game you can afford to lose. Clemson is the must win. FSU will likely face Clemson in an ACC Championship game rematch with a playoff spot on the line. You want to go into that game knowing you beat Clemson on their home field earlier in the season rather than having to go back to the Obama administration for the last win over Dabo’s crew.

Juan Montalvo: LSU is the game FSU can most afford to lose. Winning the ACC for the first time in years is far more important than the notable out of conference game. Florida is the must-win - it is, as always, critically important to beat your most important in state rival, as ceding them any foothold can hurt you for the future.

NoleThruandThru: LSU is most affordable to lose, though losing that game would add to the media narrative that FSU isn’t ready for the big time or the SEC or Big Ten. I think Miami is the must-win game this year due to the significant recruiting battles that are shaping up between the Noles and Canes over the next couple of cycles.

Perry Kostidakis: I know what I just said, but I agree that objectively, the LSU game is the most affordable and understandable to lose. While a national championship is obviously always the goal, the realistic expectation for this season is a fighting chance at an ACC title. Falling even one step behind in that is a brutal blow to what FSU is looking to get done this season.

  • Who are the 3 players on FSU’s current roster that will have the best NFL career?

Jon Marchant: I’ll go with Jared Verse, Keon Coleman, and Jaheim Bell.

Brian Pellerin: What a fun question. Jared Verse feels like a lock for this one. Outside of him, let’s go with Fentrell Cypress and Jordan Travis. I want to go Benson, but I’m not sure the NFL will allow a running back to have a great career anymore. I can see Jordan being a guy who sticks around the league for a long time.

Jon Loesche: Jared Verse, Johnny Wilson, Jaheim Bell.

NoleThruandThru: Lucas Simmons, Keon Coleman, and Patrick Payton.

Perry Kostidakis: Jared Verse, Kalen DeLoach, Keon Coleman.

Which players will win major awards this season?

Jon Marchant: Verse. Maybe Bell.

Brian Pellerin: Jared Verse. I don’t think Travis ends up winning the Heisman because his biggest chances to shine are so early in the year. Even with great showings, he won’t stay at the top of the list by season’s end. Voter fatigue is lazy, but it’s real.

Jon Loesche: I don’t believe anybody wins individual awards but Verse will be on every All-American team that matters and Travis gets a trip to New York.

Perry Kostidakis: I think I’ve convinced myself in the last week or so that Jordan Travis will, at the very least, win a major award. Verse will take home one as well, and then give me either Keon Coleman or Johnny Wilson as Florida State’s first-ever Biletnikoff Award winner.

Juan Montalvo: Jaheim Bell. Maurice Smith. Alex Mastromanno. #TeamPunters

NoleThruandThru: I’m gonna cheat and say Mike Norvell and Alex Atkins.

  • Does FSU make the ACC Championship game — and if it does, is it a rematch against Clemson?

Jon Marchant: Yes and yes.

Brian Pellerin: Yes and yes.

Jon Loesche: Yes and no. Drake Maye plays the game of his life November 18th at Clemson to get UNC into the ACC title game.

Juan Montalvo: Yes and yes - but I think they play Pitt. Yes FSU faces Pitt, but I think Pitt runs the table otherwise. The tiebreakers appear to favor Clemson based on Pitt having an extremely weak schedule, but call this a hunch.

NoleThruandThru: Yes and yes, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clemson stumble hard this season. Keep an eye on Pitt, Louisville, and NC State as dark horses.

Perry Kostidakis: Yes and............yes. I do want to say no, but that’s more a hunch than an actual feeling.

  • Rank the games vs. Florida State’s rivals by difficulty

Jon Marchant: Clemson (can we call them a rival?), Miami (FL), UF

Brian Pellerin: Clemson, Miami and UF. Florida currently on my TV as I write this and it’s yuck.

Jon Loesche: Clemson, Miami and UF. Normally would flip UF and Miami due to playing UF on the road. But there is a decent chance UF is goes into Thanksgiving weekend 3-8 and with an interim coach if the first half of this Utah game is anything to go by.

Juan Montalvo: Utah has made this one different - so I’ll follow along the Clemson, Miami (not OH), Florida line.

NoleThruandThru: Clemson, Miami, UF, though the Gators may not have anything to lose by the time they play FSU.

Perry Kostidakis: Clemson, the widest gap ever imagined, a gap that is three times the size of that previous gap, Miami, UF

  • The big question — final record prediction and how you see the season playing out

Jon Marchant: 11-1 regular season. FSU drops one of LSU/Clemson, but rallies the rest of the way, makes the ACC title game, and wins. Weird that I think that happens but I don’t feel comfortable saying they’ll lock up a playoff spot. But if they do all that they should, right?

Brian Pellerin: 11-1 with a loss to LSU to end up in the ACC title game. I’ve waffled on beating Clemson twice in the same year, but I like FSU to win the ACC title and in that scenario I don’t see how they miss the CFP. At the same time, I wouldn’t feel confident in betting on them making the CFP as a standalone bet, but the schedule falls perfectly for it. Give me a semifinal exit to either Georgia or the Big Ten champ.

Jon Loesche: 12-0. FSU bet big on this season and it comes up in spades. We’ll beat UNC to win the ACC Championship. FSU gets a trip to California for our trouble against either Michigan or Ohio State but comes up just short.

Juan Montalvo: 11-1. It feels most likely of all scenarios. I’m going to guess a semifinal exit, it’s tough for teams on the rise to get over the final hump - and almost all likely opponents in that will be very strong and experienced. I don’t think that’s how Norvell is, nor do I think that’s the character of this team, but I have to go with my normative expectation of big games needing some big game veterans.

NoleThruandThru: 11-1, ACC Championship, and playoff berth. FSU is finally anointed as “back” by the media, and this season’s results cement them as the hottest commodity in the realignment carousel next offseason.

Perry Kostidakis: I’ve been wavering back and forth since, really, the mass wave of returnees we saw earlier this year, on if the hype is real. FSU has been slowly clawing its way back under Norvell and we’ve seen the proof of concept play out — outside of last year’s three-game losing streak. Are the holes plugged? Can the team stay healthy? Is this 2017, a year of false hope? Is it 2016, a successful year that saw Florida State field one of the nation’s best teams but get locked out of major postseason play because of conference losses? Or is it destiny, ten years after its last title, thirty after its first, that Florida State will pull off playing in the final four-team playoff after playing in the first, which followed it playing in the first and last BCS Championship?

Give me the storyline ending baby. 11-1 regular season, Heisman Trophy for Travis, ACC Championship, and a win in the playoff before coming up just short vs. Georgia in the title game.