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End of year roundtable: Discussing FSU’s 2021 season

The highs and lows of Florida State’s season, plus expectations for next year

NCAA Football: Miami at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Based on preseason expectations, would you consider this season a step forward?

NoleThruandThru: Overall, yes. By the end of the season, we saw the team fully buy into what this coaching staff wants to do. Dead weight on the roster was jettisoned and will likely continue to be in the coming weeks. FSU today is a very different team and staff than FSU at the start of the season, in many good ways. There is plenty to sell to recruits and transfer portal prospects moving forward, which will be a crucial next step in the climb.

Tommy: Yes, absolutely. The roster turnaround was remarkable to see as was overall team growth. The way this team fought through 0-4 adversity and taking down rival Miami will be huge selling points for classes to come.

LastNoleOfKrypton: I believe I predicted 7-5 preseason so mathematically it’s not a step forward but context is everything and finishing 5-7 after starting 0-4 is noticeable progress on the culture fit. It’s a Jimmies and Joes type game regardless of how good your coaching staff is and after 2 out of 3 transition classes it’s become abundantly clear that things will get much better once the roster is flipped. So yes there is progress; progress in keeping the 2022 recruiting class together and already adding more offensive lineman in the portal. I would have liked to seen more results on the field but you win games in January and March too despite no games being played.

Frank DNole: Absolutely, yes. Although my personal goals for FSU making the CFP [College Football Playoffs] this year fell short I do consider myself a reasonable alumnus and am willing to give this staff one more year to turn it around. However, I will be distraught and outraged if we are not in the discussion for the National Championship by this time next year.

Jon Marchant: Yes. I’m pretty sure my preseason prediction was 5-7 with a chance at 6 wins and a bowl. That’s exactly what happened. Norvell flipped the culture. It was the “lose a little” year and that’s right on schedule.

Perry Kostidakis: I do think that FSU is starting to find its rhythm under Mike Norvell, in the sense that the program that he’s trying to establish is coming to fruition. Outside of the Wake Forest loss, FSU was contending in each of its games, a huge step from 2020 and outside occasional lapses in maturity, this team was disciplined and emotionally resilient through an 0-4 start. While there are plenty of disappointments to identify, Florida State actually played competent football in the bulk of its games in 2021, a far cry from what’s been displayed over the past few years.

Brett Nevitt: I struggle with this question because I think this program is heading in the right direction and that it took a step forward this season. I didn’t expect much, maybe six wins best. But. FSU had a chance to go bowling and maybe pull out a winning season if they don’t give up a Hail Mary to Jacksonville State or if they beat their rivals this past weekend. Therefore, I’d have to say disappointment. But there’s obvious progress and I’m optimistic coming out of the season.

What position group made the biggest strides this season?

NoleThruandThru: Couple ways to go here, but I’d say the defensive backs. Kevin Knowles and Omarion Cooper grew immensely after being given playing time. Jarvis Brownlee continues to show flashes and has become a reliable tackler. Shy Brown has a bright future, and Akeem Dent finally turned a corner towards consistency. Assuming Jammie Robinson returns for another season, this unit could very well be the strength of next year’s defense.

Tommy: I would have to go with NTT and say the defensive backs. They’re starting to show physicality, vision, and aside from a few blunders, they are tackling a lot better. Shout out to Kalen DeLoach.

LastNoleofKrypton: I’m going to go with the linebackers; Kalen Deloach became an imposing player at the turn of November and while Gainer & Lundy are physically limited their effort and ability to play their assignments also improved.

Frank DNole: Defensive line. I predicted that Keir Thomas would be the defensive MVP in my preseason picks, but damn, JJ II is also pretty damn cool.

They both seem like groovy kinda fellas, and thank you both for picking FSU for your final year. I believe it was a well thought out business decision on both of yours’s parts. I expect we will be following your success in the NFL here on Tomahawk Nation going forward.

Jon Marchant: The rebuilt defensive line. Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas were revelations. The development of guys like Fabien Lovett, Robert Cooper, and Malcolm Ray were incredible to witness. I don’t know how Norvell will reload this unit for next season. But their improvement made a huge difference this season in the improvement the overall team showed.

Perry Kostidakis: It’s not as if they had a far way to go, but the way that the running back group as a whole performed exceeded the high expectations I personally had for them. Treshaun Ward emerged as one of the ACC’s best while Jashaun Corbin was the heart and soul of the offense in the early aughts of the season.

Brett Nevitt: DL would be my position group, but others have explained that so I’m simply going to say QB because of Jordan Travis. No single player was more improved this season. Travis is a good college quarterback. The depth needs to be better in the room, but for the first time in a while, you know you have a solid piece there going into the next season.

Where does FSU desperately need to improve?

NoleThruandThru: Again, couple ways to go here and as badly as I want to say the wide receivers, I’ll say the linebackers. It’s important to shout out Kalen Deloach for his immense growth this season, but this unit needs an overhaul in a bad way. It was the weak link in nearly every game this season. I’m hoping to see a couple big wins on the recruiting trail along with several portal and JUCO transfers to infuse talent and experience into the LB corps.

Tommy: Wide receivers should and need to take the next step in the off season. How many times were the plays there but just not made? Ontaria Wilson, Malik McLain, and Ja’Khi Douglas all made tremendous strides and should be part of a good rotation with players returning from injury and recruits coming in.

LastNoleOfKrypton: This is hypocritical because I just said that they were the most improved group but FSU still need to desperately upgrade its linebacker room; aside from Deloach the room is just devoid of talented bodies right now.

Jon Marchant: I have to go one on each side of the ball because that’s how bad it is — wide receivers and linebackers. For WR it looks like there’s a good chance Norvell can flip that room through recruiting. But for linebacker I think every option has to be looked at.

Perry Kostidakis: Special teams, and it really is a desperate need. From missed field goals to lost hidden yardage off kickoffs and punts, special teams was a huge thorn in the side of the Seminoles all season long, all the way down to Parker Grouthas’ now-infamous whiff on FSU’s onside attempt vs. the Florida Gators. Norvell said himself that the team did not get the return on investment that the program places on special teams after the season finale — it’s a unit that needs to improve across the board (though punter Alex Mastromanno was lights out for the bulk of the year.)

Brett Nevitt: Wide receivers. FSU’s offense is built to get playmakers in one-on-one’s. It seemed like they didn’t do that much this year, but that was just because the receivers couldn’t win those battles. Go get playmakers, difference makers at that position. If you do that, I think it completely changes the ceiling of the Seminoles’ offense.

What was the biggest moment of FSU’s season?

NoleThruandThru: The loss to Jacksonville State was the turning point for the coaching staff, as they learned that they can never take an opponent for granted (something they never should have had to learn in the first place). The second half of the Louisville Cardinals game was the turning point for the players, giving them confidence to win their next three games.

Tommy: To steer away from the Jax State moment even though it was probably the most important, I am going to say the final drives against the Miami Hurricanes and Boston College Eagles to snatch the victory from Miami and hold off Boston College were major moments in their own right because I think it bred a lot of confidence within the team.

LastNoleOfKrypton: The biggest moment of the season was the final drive vs. the Syracuse Orange. Huh? Yes, Syracuse. An 0-4 team for a program that hasn’t had stability since 2016 has to learn how to win and that’s what the Syracuse game taught them how to do. The losses after that point came against teams in which they overmatched physically not inferior opponents in which they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. The distinction is an important one.

Frank DNole: FMFFM

Perry Kostidakis: It doesn’t happen without the lessons learned throughout the entire year, but for me, the most crucial moment of the year is the Jordan Travis to Andrew Parchment connection on 4th and 14 vs. Miami. The win over the Hurricanes had massive implications and consequences and gave Norvell his first win over an in-state rival on his first try.

Brett Nevitt: Ryan Fitzgerald’s walk-off field goal versus Syracuse. Long time ago, doesn’t seem that important, but it was. That win gave FSU belief that it could win. It wasn’t pretty, but they found a way. Simply finding a way and feeling the joy of win was something this team needed and it led to a promising second half of the season.

What are early expectations for next year?

NoleThruandThru: My expectation is 6 wins and a bowl game, but my goal would be 7-8 wins and no blowout losses. I think that goal is attainable and realistic. Make no mistake though, this will be a young team next year as a very talented prep class comes in and there will be significant growing pains as they gain experience. It will be very interesting to see how the coaches navigate portal additions this off-season- win the portal and my expectations will rise, especially considering the number of teams on FSU’s schedule that will be breaking in new coaching staffs.

Tommy: Bowl game. That needs to be added to coach Norvell’s resume moving forward but generally just continued improvement. I want to see a team that finishes games and no longer has to say, “We were 8 plays away from 7-5” but actually having a winning record at the end of the season. It’s there, it’s possible, and next season should reflect that.

LastNoleOfKrypton: Context is always important but he really does have to get a bowl game in order to further himself and set up a good 2023 and 2024. You can only sell growth for so long before people say where are the results of my investment. I believe we’re going in the right direction but it’s understandable if a couple of sub .500 seasons keep folks on the skeptical side.

Jon Marchant: Next year is supposed to be the “win by a little” year. I’ll go 7 wins, followed by 6 more likely than 8. It’s finally time to expect a bowl game and I believe they’ll get it done. I believe in Mike Norvell and the culture he’s building here in Tallahassee.

Perry Kostidakis: I need to see more of the “win by a little” than “lose by a little.” It was mentioned as an indicator of the way FSU had progressed this season, but if the Seminoles are still losing tight games in the same fashion in 2022, that’ll be more concerning. FSU’s schedule doesn’t get much easier next season, but locking up bowl eligibility before the last few weeks of the season would go a long way. Finishing the year strong with a bowl win would propel the Seminoles towards a 2023 in which it need to truly be competing, and also make it possible for Norvell could get his record at FSU (8-13) to .500 or over. I was way off with my 2021 season predictions, saying FSU could nab 8 wins, but I’ll go on an optimistic limb once more and say that the Seminoles could have the chance to finish with 8-9 wins next year.

Brett Nevitt: It’s tough, the schedule is going to be hard and we have no idea what Florida State’s roster could look like. There’s lots of nice pieces coming back but also a lot of holes to fill. At the very least, this team’s going to fight and play everybody close, because that’s been instilled in them by Norvell. I expect wins over Miami and Florida, because Norvell knows they just mean more, and a bowl game. Ask me my exact win total when FSU fills up their transfer spots.