“First, you lose big, then you lose close. Then you win close, and finally, you win big.”
A favorite saying of Bobby Bowden’s, the progression towards consistent success in college football is a simple one. Paraphrased by Lou Holtz, you learn to compete, you learn to win, you learn how to handle winning and then you learn how to win championships.
In the early weeks of the 2022 college football season, Florida State is still in the midst of determining whether its learning how to win or how to handle it. FSU is 2-0 for the first time since 2016, a fact that has been tweeted, written and cited nonstop in the aftermath of the Seminoles’ thrilling win over the LSU Tigers in week one.
Through the offseason, and through the first two weeks, Florida State has looked like a team that has risen above the struggles seen during the first two years of head coach Mike Norvell’s tenure. Youth and unfamiliarity has morphed into experience and depth and while the Seminoles failed to deal a finishing blow to LSU that would’ve avoided any theatrics, the team still stood strong and left New Orleans with a win.
So which is the real Florida State — the one that made school history in the season opener and nearly dominated LSU in its own backyard, or the squad that very nearly saw that win slip away?
2016 is more than just the last time the Seminoles started off with a two-win streak — that year also unwittingly served as the last semblance of significant success in Tallahassee before the program’s recent rut. A 10-win season saw the Seminoles carry out a stunning season-opening comeback win, blocked kick to win vs. Miami, blowout top 15 win vs. UF, and earn an Orange Bowl trophy in a thriller against Michigan.
That season, however, also saw the first major knockout blow to the Seminoles’ rebuilt reputation when Louisville and Lamar Jackson stole FSU’s soul in a 60-23 shellacking that looked, felt and could’ve been so much worse.
Since that matchup, FSU is 2-6 vs. Louisville, having only won twice ever vs. the Seminoles (14-2!) previously.
FSU’s struggles against Louisville have been indicative of the middle-of-the-pack status that the Seminoles’ program has been fighting to escape from — FSU hasn’t won more than 4 conference games since 2016 and only holds winning records vs. Boston College (4-1), Syracuse (4-1), UNC (2-0) and Wake Forest (3-2) in that time span.
In recent history, Norvell is 0-2 vs. Cardinals head man Scott Satterfield. FSU has been outclassed in both matchups, blown out 48-16 in 2020 and falling behind 31-7 at halftime in 2021 ahead of a 31-23 final score.
While Florida State has started off the season with a level of success not seen in years, there still needs to be evidence added to the body of work before true declarations of progress can be proclaimed.
“If you want to show you’re back, go win every game and get better every week and with every practice,” Norvell said following FSU’s win over LSU. “I’m glad our guys are excited about the steps we’ve taken. But if we don’t continue to take steps, then none of that is going to matter.”
I wrote before the season started that this was a “prove-it” year for Florida State and Norvell — while competing for championships in 2022 wasn’t to be expected, clear signs of progress and tangible evidence of Norvell’s vision for the program was.
So far, that’s been the case. There have been a few instances of eyebrow-raising and still more than a few concerns as to the overall team (or else title contention would be expected, logically), but as mentioned previously there has a different level of depth, execution, and talent present in the early aughts of the season. FSU might have been playing Duquesne, but three running backs hitting 100-yards in the same game for the first time in school history is significant. The Seminoles may have bent a little too much against LSU, but the team did not break.
Now, Florida State is a favorite on the road for the first time under Norvell, staring at an opportunity to get over the Louisville hump and start 3-0 and 1-0 in ACC play, both for the first time since 2015.
FSU spent 2020 losing big and 2021 losing close — with a 2-0 start setting the tone for 2022, it’s time for the Seminoles to learn how to win.