Florida State suddenly has an outside chance of sneaking into the New Year’s Six Bowl lineup.
More specifically, the Orange Bowl in Miami on Dec. 30.
Two shocking results from last Saturday – North Carolina falling to Georgia Tech, 21-17, and Tennessee losing to South Carolina, 63-38 – turned that once-improbable scenario into more of a legitimate possibility.
The Tar Heels losing to the Yellow Jackets dropped them to No. 17 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, one spot below the No. 16 Seminoles. Now, No. 8 Clemson is the only ACC team ranked higher than FSU.
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If more chaos like the Volunteers’ loss ensues over the next two weeks, the Tigers could elevate enough in the rankings to infiltrate the four-team CFP. Which would leave the Seminoles as the highest-ranked ACC team for the Orange Bowl to pluck.
Clearly, none of that calculus would matter if FSU (8-3) loses to Florida (6-5) when the two rivals meet in Doak Campbell Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday (TV: ABC).
That the Seminoles are included in the New Year’s Six discussion this late in the season, though, is significant. They have become nationally relevant again – finally – after spending the last several seasons struggling to climb out of a grave.
It’s certainly a reminder that FSU fans have a lot of reasons to be thankful this season’s team. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, those reasons are broken down below with some holiday flare.
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The main course
The main course often defines a Thanksgiving meal, and there’s a resounding theme when describing this FSU team.
The Seminoles turning some of their weaknesses into strengths – particularly on offense – largely explains why they took a major step forward this season. Here are the most significant improvements that should make FSU fans feel thankful:
• Quarterback: Coming into this season, Jordan Travis had never been a cemented quarterback starter in college. The Seminoles built their offense around him this past offseason, improving the offensive line and receiving corps. Travis has since emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the country, ranking No. 10 among them in Pro Football Focus’ overall grade (90.6) and No. 12 in passing efficiency (161.2 rating). This month, he leads the nation in passing efficiency (250.09) and completion percentage (81.6%).
• Wide receiver: In each of the last two seasons, FSU struggled so much at this position that no one in the group eclipsed 400 receiving yards. ESPN’s David Hale even ranked this receiver unit as the worst in the ACC before last season. The Seminoles then added four receivers from the transfer portal, including top option Johnny Wilson. They have since dramatically improved their ability to create separation, generate yards after the catch and block. PFF gives FSU its fifth-highest receiving grade (85.6) in the country.
• Offensive line: When FSU hired Mike Norvell as head coach before the 2020 season, he inherited one of the worst offensive lines in the Power Five. The Seminoles had finished outside of the top 90 in sacks allowed for four straight seasons, including No. 125 in 2019. They also ranked outside of the top 90 in rushing offense in 2018 (No. 125) and 2019 (No. 93). With the help of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Alex Atkins, the Seminoles now come in at No. 14 in rushing offense (214 yards per game) and No. 36 in sacks allowed (1.45 per game).
• Pass defense: Not since the 2017 season had FSU ranked among the top 50 teams in pass-efficiency defense. The Seminoles come in at No. 20 in that metric (117.37 rating allowed on average) this season, along with No. 4 in passing yards allowed (155.4), No. 5 in passing yards per attempt (5.73) and No. 20 in passing yards per completion (13.51). Five players in the secondary each have at least one interception. Cornerback Greedy Vance Jr., a first-year transfer from Louisville, leads the group with three.
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The side dishes
While the main course tends to define a Thanksgiving meal, the side dishes can take it to another level.
Here are some of the other developments with this team that should make FSU fans feel thankful:
• Succeeding with the transfer portal again: Another season, another FSU team full of star transfers. Almost every first-year transfer has at least contributed in a meaningful way. And the Seminoles’ best player at almost every position is a transfer. Their leader in passing (quarterback Jordan Travis, 2,526 yards), rushing (running back Trey Benson, 854 yards), receiving (receiver Johnny Wilson, 649 yards), tackling (safety Jammie Robinson, 76), sacks (defensive end Jared Verse, 7.5) and interceptions (Vance, three) are all transfers.
• Three-headed running back monster: Even when running back Treshaun Ward suffered an injury against NC State and missed the next three games, FSU’s vaunted ground game didn’t miss a beat. Running backs Lawrance Toafili and Benson were more than capable of handling the workload. With Benson, Ward and Toafili leading the way, the Seminoles are rushing for 217 yards per game (14th nationally). They have not averaged more rushing yards per game in a season since their Warrick Dunn-led 1995 team accumulated 222.8 per game.
• Effectively replacing Jermaine Johnson II, Keir Thomas: Defensive ends Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas leaving for the NFL following last season raised questions about whether FSU could effectively replace them. In one fewer game, the Seminoles already have as many sacks this season (33) as they tallied in 2021. FSU recording more sacks at positions beyond defensive end partly explains that increase in production. But projected first-round pick Jared Verse (7.5 sacks) and burgeoning redshirt freshman Patrick Payton (four sacks) also have been disruptive off the edge.
• Built for November: Norvell’s teams typically perform well in November, the most important month of the season. When combining his seven seasons as head coach for the University of Memphis and FSU, Norvell has compiled more wins in November than any other month. Those teams went 19-5 during that span and boasted a 41.0-25.2 average margin of victory. This season, the Seminoles are one win away from going undefeated in November for the first time since 2016. They have outscored opponents by a combined 132-23 so far.
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Now for the cherry on top.
FSU fans have to feel thankful about how easy it probably is to root for this team. The Seminoles have had a lot of fun personalities and moments show throughout the season. Here are some of the most notable ones:
• Mycah Pittman vlogs: With nearly 75,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, receiver Mycah Pittman markets himself better than maybe any player on the team. His vlogs give a closer look at what it’s like to play college football. They also give fans a better idea of what some of FSU’s players are like off the field.
Below is a clip from Pittman’s vlog during preseason camp in August.
• Breaking the rock: It’s not a new tradition under Norvell. But FSU has been breaking the rock after wins a lot more recently compared to the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Who does not want to see someone clobber a stone with a sledgehammer?
Below is a clip of defensive coordinator Adam Fuller breaking the rock after the Seminoles’ 38-3 victory at Syracuse earlier this month.
• Cinematic recaps: After each game, FSU posts a “cinematic recap.” These videos take fans behind the scenes in ways that other teams around the country may not.
Below is the cinematic recap from the Seminoles’ 49-17 win over Louisiana last Saturday.
• Robert Cooper racing Norvell: At the beginning of every football practice, FSU defensive tackle Robert Cooper races Norvell across the length of the field. Cooper rarely wins, but it’s an amusing tradition that offers a glimpse of the connection Norvell has with a lot of his players.
Below is a clip of their race before practice Monday.
• TikTok videos: From time to time, an FSU player comes out with an entertaining TikTok. This week, walk-on quarterback Gino English had one that is worth watching.
Who: FSU (8-3) vs. Florida (6-5)
When/Where: Friday, 7:30 p.m., Doak Campbell Stadium
Reach Carter Karels at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CarterKarels. You can also follow our coverage on Facebook (NoleSports) and Instagram (tlhnolesports).
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