No. 13 Florida State (9-3, 5-3 ACC) is playing in a bowl game for the first time under head coach Mike Norvell, going from 3-6 in his debut year to finish with the program’s best record since 2016.
The team’s reward for its season is a matchup vs. the Oklahoma Sooners (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) in the Cheez-It Bowl, set to take place in Orlando.
Ahead of the matchup, Sooners head coach Brent Venables took the chance to offer his compliments to the way that Norvell has built Florida State back up.
“Coach Norvell has done a terrific job. I’ve been a fly on the wall, if you will, for the last several years since he got the job three years ago, and what a transformation make and his staff have done,” he said via Zoom on Sunday. “What a terrific job of building the program foundationally the right way. You know, 9-3 this year, 5-3 in the ACC; they have had a great year. Their three losses were three ranked teams all by a single score; I think their last five games, they have won by an average score of 44-15. They are top 20 in offense, top 20 in defense and have premiere players in all three phases of the game.”
“So can it be a springboard for both programs? Certainly. Again, Mike’s been there for three years now, and this is their first bowl game that they are going to, and the way he’s done it the right way and he’s used the transfers with the right guys, when it’s all fit and he’s developed guys through signing guys out of high school. And then he’s had, for the most part, he’s had good continuity on his staff and he’s had an opportunity to build through his vision what he wants his program to look like.”
The full presser can be read below:
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, we look forward to having you down here to face Florida State on the 29 in the Cheez-It Bowl. If you could start with an opening statement about how you and the team are feeling about the trip, we’d love to hear it.
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, first and foremost, we would like to thank the Cheez-It Bowl committee for choosing Oklahoma; what an honor. We’re thrilled to have an opportunity to play against a great football in Florida State on December 29.
Coach Norvell has done a terrific job. I’ve been a fly on the wall, if you will, for the last several years since he got the job three years ago, and what a transformation make and his staff have done. What a terrific job of building the program foundationally the right way. You know, 9-3 this year, 5-3 in the ACC; they have had a great year. Their three losses were three ranked teams all by a single score; I think their last five games, they have won by an average score of 44-15. They are top 20 in offense, top 20 in defense and have premiere players in all three phases of the game.
Jordan Travis is as dynamic and explosive as an offensive player as there is in the country and then he’s got Tre Wilson and Johnny — or Trey Benson and Johnny Wilson at both running back and wide receiver amongst a stable of receivers and backs and tight ends. Defensively, Jared Verse, Jammie Robinson, amongst others. They are long; they can run; they are physical, and they play with great, great confidence.
Great, great opportunity for our team. The Bowl game is an opportunity to reward our team for their hard work. It’s been a challenging season, but I know one in which our players are looking forward to getting down to Florida and to Orlando and getting a chance to play in this great venue.
Q. Appreciate you taking the time.
BRENT VENABLES: You bet.
Q. Do you have a sense of what your roster and play availability is going to be like for this game? We’ve seen a couple players already announce whether it’s entering the portal or entering the Draft and just what’s that process look like for you in the last week since we talked to you last?
BRENT VENABLES: I told y’all going into last week, had a lot of exit meetings and a lot of talks in regards to — on both our seniors that are on our team and some of the opportunities that they have. There’s three of our guys that have been chosen for Senior Bowl, Eric Gray and Wanya Morris, as well as — whom I missing here.
Q. Turk was the Shrine Bowl; right?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, I’ll think of it in a second. You know and Anton Harris as well as Jaylen Redmond, those guys are not going to play in the Bowl game. And Jalen Redmond is playing in the Senior Bowl as well. Eric Gray was banged up for most of the last part of the season and fought through it, and proud of him and thankful for him.
Anton also had a lower-body injury in that loss to Texas Tech, and then Wanya obviously missed our last game. Had a concussion and still recovering from that.
But I’m excited about all of the guys that will be a part of the team that are not in the portal, and we have a great opportunity sitting in front of us. And again, that group of guys that will get on the airplane to go down to Orlando, can’t be more excited about this opportunity.
Q. You talked about exit meetings. What has the last week been like getting ready for this Bowl prep season. And mentioning how big this is for the younger players, not only the practices of getting that experience of playing in a Bowl game like this to build and spring poured to 2023?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, obviously, we have been preparing for the end of the season, and this is the last year that you can have the opportunity to sign more than 25 guys and so building the roster the way we see fit and where our needs are, things that need to transpire transactionally in the — you know, with guys looking for other opportunities, and for us to continue to add value to our roster, this is something that — it’s complicated in many ways but something that we as a staff have been working on for several months now in preparation for this opportunity.
We feel like it’s going to be great for everybody in regards to guys finding a fresh start and for us to continue to fill the holes and the needs of our roster and add the depth where we need and see fit.
It’s going to be a great opportunity for the — this is a developmental game; the way that you improve and get better is by playing. This is going to be a great opportunity for our guys through practices, and they are doing skills and abilities drills on their own right now with some of our graduate assistants. They have been in the weight room and had a great week in the weight room last week, and had a few skills and abilities drills practices last week just to stay sharp with our schemes on both sides of the ball.
And now, this will be an opportunity for us to continue to develop those things as well as an opportunity to start up practices next weekend in our bowl preparation and then playing in the bowl game. What an awesome opportunity that’s going to be, really, with spring ball, just really several weeks away once we get back.
For coaches, we’re excited. I’m not sure how excited the players will be, but that’s the nature of the beast. Actually, they will have, give or take, six weeks off of matt drills and rest and recovery and then we’ll get started with our initial spring ball preparations.
Q. So with all the guys leaving, transfer portal, I assume there will be some opt-outs at some point possibly in addition to the NFL guys. How do you prep your team with all the young guys, the freshmen, the red-shirts, the guys who have not really got a ton of time this year, how do you prepare them to get ready for this one Bowl game?
BRENT VENABLES: Well, again, I think the guys that are in the portal and will get in the portal, we had Theo Wease; he’s looking to be a starter somewhere. The other guys have not really been able to carve out a niche and did not contribute in any way in regard to on-the-field play.
So the guys in regards to playing will be guys that have played all year. J-Red on defense is the one that is — he’s going to get ready for Senior Bowl, and he was in a group of guys that rotated all year.
And then on offense, you know, fortunately, we’ve been able to get Jovantae Barnes, really good time, and Marcus was a little bit banged up late, and we are hoping to have him back there at running back as well.
And again, the young offensive lineman, along with Tyler Guyton, we’ll have a good group of guys right there at tackle that will be able to step in. They will do a great job. They are just looking for opportunities.
So they will have almost a spring ball’s worth of practices, give or take around 17-plus practices to be able to refine their skills and abilities and get ready for this game. And they are going to have a great, great challenge. They are going to get baptized quickly. Jared Verse is one of the premier pass rushers in all of college football, and you’re going to have length and speed and experience everywhere on both sides of the ball.
Q. The season that the Big 12 had, and just looking at the way things shake out here at the end, even though you guys don’t have the record you were hoping for, do you feel like the competition you guys played in the conference this year maybe tilts that a little to show that you are better than people might think based on the record?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, you can look at it however you want. There’s tremendous parity in this league. Excellent quarterback play. Really good coaching on both sides of the ball. It’s a very — to me, it’s like having a good NC State team every single week. It’s got high-end talent, tough, disciplined, both sides of the ball.
Years and years ago, Big 12 was known for just offense, but there’s a lot of people playing really good defense as well in this conference.
Again, again, we’ve been competitive and had all of our starting players available, and we have been really competitive. We had four losses that came down to one score and the things that it takes to win, we weren’t good enough to do that.
But I think we are good enough when we put it all together, we can play with anybody. But we are going to need to continue to improve where we left off, and this will be a game that will challenge us with both discipline, physicality, speed. We’re going to have to be fresh, excellent schemes on both sides of the ball, really good coaching from Florida State as well. It will be a great, great challenge, but one our guys in this conference, the season has prepared us for the postseason.
Q. Last time you played in this game, it was two teams that went on to kind of be dominant in college football playoffs, both Clemson and then Oklahoma. Is there maybe a lesson in that for your guys going in that, hey, this is a program that may not have wanted to be here at one time, but it really springboarded them into being one of the top teams over the next several years?
BRENT VENABLES: Yeah, we’ll use any type of parallels that you can. I think that was 2014 that we played in the game. It’s like the end of any season, though. It is an opportunity to continue to build your team, to try to create momentum, improve, develop confidence.
Certainly be on a stage where you can continue to sell your program and a vision to both your current players and certainly, recruits that will be watching. Obviously, this will be just a little over a week post-signing day for a good group of guys that will be signing in the early signing period.
So we’ll be giving them a snapshot of something to look forward to, as well, as they embark on their careers here in January.
So can it be a springboard for both programs? Certainly. Again, Mike’s been there for three years now, and this is their first bowl game that they are going to, and the way he’s done it the right way and he’s used the transfers with the right guys, when it’s all fit and he’s developed guys through signing guys out of high school. And then he’s had, for the most part, he’s had good continuity on his staff and he’s had an opportunity to build through his vision what he wants his program to look like.
So for us, it’s a great, great opportunity, and just to be able to match up with a team with the speed and the talent and certainly the history and tradition. I think we’ve played maybe seven times.
The last time that we played as the 2000 National Championship down in the Orange Bowl, and so that was a great — actually we played in 2010, didn’t we, I think we played home and home — maybe 2010, 2011. Neither here nor there. Again, a great, great opportunity. Two tradition-rich programs and, again, going to be a great challenge for our guys.