After three years, it’s time for Florida State Seminoles football to show proof of concept.
With the season just days away from kicking off, the onus is now on the team to prove that they’re ready to take the next step back towards the standard. The explanations for the team’s pitfalls — the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 leading to a lack of program identity, youth resulting in inconsistency in 2021 — have faded away, replaced by the confidence of the staff and players in the ability to execute Mike Norvell’s vision for the program.
This isn’t to say that FSU needs to be competing for an ACC title in 2022 but becoming one of the conference’s better teams is surely an achievable benchmark. The Seminoles went 4-4 in conference play in 2021, competitive in all but 34-15 loss to Wake Forest, and besting that mark this season is achievable. While Clemson might have had a chance to stabilize after a “down” year and NC State seemingly fielding the best team Raleigh has seen in decades, FSU has built up the depth, talent, and experience required to win in the ACC.
Over the last few years, we’ve heard the same fun fact repeated — the Seminoles have one of, if not the, youngest teams in college football. Now, they’re one of the most experienced in the country, having brought back 82% of its team production (74% on offense, 90% on defense) according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly and it’s time to take advantage of it.
“We think we’ve got a really incredible opportunity to go out there and take a great step as a program and showcase the wonderful players we get to coach,” Norvell said on The Paul Finebaum Show earlier this month.
“We returned so much production from last year. Offensively, defensively and special teams. We’ve been able to have a lot of great newcomers that I think are going to make a tremendous impact on the confidence of this team.”
What will set the tone for the Seminoles in conference play is its first ACC game of the year, a week three matchup against the Louisville Cardinals, who have won four of the last six games in the series (and two straight vs. Norvell.) Coming off a high-profile, primetime matchup vs. LSU, its essential that FSU manages to maintain its consistency mentally — last season, we saw what happened when that drop-off happened, with the Seminoles losing the program’s first-ever game to an FCS opponent just a week after showing out in a nationally televised game vs. a Notre Dame team that nearly made the College Football Playoff.
To ensure a successful year FSU needs to get a win vs. the Cardinals and follow it up with additional ones over Boston College and Wake Forest (who will be short-handed at quarterback, with senior statesman Sam Hartman unavailable) before heading into the dangerous part of its conference schedule — at NC State, home vs. Clemson, a small breath of air vs. Georgia Tech and then down to Coral Gables to take on Miami. A conference play finale vs. Syracuse is an opportunity to end its ACC slate on a high note before two non-conference games to end the year in Louisiana-Layfette and Florida.
All offseason long, we’ve heard from players and coaches that this team is different, that things have started to gel, and that familiarity is now coupled with depth, intensity, and effort. In theory, the Seminoles should be competitive in each and every game this season.
In reality? It’s up to the team.
“I try to track things from year to year, and over the three-year period of time that we’ve been able to see that output in a fall camp, it was by far the best player load, the highest velocity and top speeds just as an overall average of a football team,” Norvell said ahead of the season opener. “Our explosive movements, change of directions; we blew it out of the water from years past.”
“What gives me confidence is I’ve seen the work. I’ve seen the increase in everything that we track. These guys have pushed at an extraordinary level.”
It’s rhetoric you hear from programs all across the country as camp is underway — everybody is bigger, faster and stronger than they were the season before — but at least during practice, the Seminoles have showcased an elevation from where they were even in 2021.
Despite all of the progress and added talent, the hesitation to confidently declare 8 to 10 wins for the Seminoles (the over/under according to DraftKings is 6.5) comes from the last two seasons, where one step forward sometimes equaled 15 back. This year is a chance to change that narrative, to instill hope back into a program that is coming up on six years since its last major bowl win.
The baseline has been set, the platform has been built, the task assigned and understood — now, Florida State needs to take the field and deliver.