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FSU football: Don’t view the Orange Bowl as a Seminoles referendum

The Seminoles are down 360 career starts due to opt-outs, injuries and the transfer portal.
 
Florida State football's Brock Glenn leads a Seminoles team that is very different than the one that started 13-0.
Florida State football's Brock Glenn leads a Seminoles team that is very different than the one that started 13-0. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Dec. 28, 2023

DANIA BEACH — Florida State missed out on the College Football Playoff in large part because the selection committee thought Jordan Travis’ leg injury made them a different team than the one that started 11-0.

Remember that in Saturday’s Orange Bowl. Because the No. 4 Seminoles will be a very different team from the one that won its first 13 games and the ACC championship.

Opt-outs, injuries and the transfer portal have devastated the team’s depth and deprived them of an astounding amount of production. Nine starters from the regular-season finale at Florida are gone. The absences/departures include:

• FSU’s four leading rushers (Trey Benson, Lawrance Toafili, Rodney Hill and Travis)

• All five players with at least 20 catches (Keon Coleman, Johnny Wilson and Jaheim Bell plus Benson and Toafili)

• Interception leader Jarrian Jones

• Four of the nine players with at least 40 tackles (Jared Verse, DJ Lundy, Akeem Dent and Renardo Green)

• 10 of the 23 different players who received at least honorable-mention all-ACC honors

Likely first-round pick Jared Verse is among the Florida State players who won't play in the Orange Bowl.
Likely first-round pick Jared Verse is among the Florida State players who won't play in the Orange Bowl. [ ERIK VERDUZCO | AP ]

FSU retains only 196 of its 2,039 rushing yards and 927 of its 3,373 receiving yards in what defensive coordinator Adam Fuller euphemistically called “roster realignment.”

“Guys opt out,” Braden Fiske said Thursday during media availability at Le Méridien Dania Beach at Fort Lauderdale Airport. “So what do we have to do? More guys have to step up.”

The ’Noles train to try to prepare for situations like this.

FSU’s typical Sunday includes a 45-minute, full-out, padded practice for players who didn’t play much the day before. Instead of running an opponent’s plays (as they might do during the week on the scout team), they practice FSU’s offense and FSU’s defense.

The advantage, Fuller said, is that players who eventually earn or inherit larger roles know the calls because they worked on them recently, not just in preseason camp.

“I’m not minimizing that that gives everybody the experience to be prepared for the Orange Bowl,” Fuller said. “But I do think it helps. I think it helps accelerate the growth of these players so when the time has come. …”

Ready or not, that time arrives Saturday against No. 6 Georgia.

Florida State defensive lineman Braden Fiske is among the notable Seminoles who chose to play in the Orange Bowl.
Florida State defensive lineman Braden Fiske is among the notable Seminoles who chose to play in the Orange Bowl. [ ERIK VERDUZCO | AP ]

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The Seminoles say they’re ready because they try to make sure every player improves daily, whether he’s a starter or walk-on.

“There are some of these guys that have to be promoted,” Fuller said, “and it’s our job to make sure they’re ready for that.”

FSU’s remaining players trust their coaches to do so. Though FSU’s secondary is down three starters, Shyheim Brown doesn’t expect his role to have to change much, if at all, with more players seeing their first extended action.

“You won’t travel if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Brown said. “I ain’t worried about them.”

There are, however, reasons FSU fans should be concerned.

Though new starting quarterback Brock Glenn is talented, he wasn’t third on the depth chart by accident; he’s inexperienced and missed on 13 of his 21 passes against Louisville. A lack of chemistry can lead to communication breakdowns — a potential issue in the secondary if players don’t properly account for shifts or motions. If any team can withstand the loss of 360 career starts, it’s one that has stacked one elite recruiting class after another.

That’s not Florida State. That’s Georgia.

And that brings us to the matchup at Hard Rock Stadium. If the oddsmakers are correct and FSU suffers a double-digit loss, there will be a told-you-so rush from pundits and SEC fans ready to use four exhibition quarters as a season-long referendum — as proof that FSU can’t hang with the heavyweights and didn’t belong in the playoff.

Don’t buy it.

Roster realignment makes these ’Noles almost unrecognizable from the ones that won their first conference title since 2014. Judge them accordingly.

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