After four seasons of mediocrity and misery, Florida State will open spring practice Tuesday with more optimism than the Seminoles have deserved in years.
Not that things will change immediately. The ‘Noles still aren’t ready to challenge Clemson or Florida. Don’t expect them to contend for championships in 2021 or ’22.
But FSU’s long-term future hasn’t looked this bright since the opening kickoff of the Willie Taggart era, just before the program collapsed. Thanks to a strong offseason in the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail, Mike Norvell’s ‘Noles look headed for national relevance, if not national prominence.
FSU will start Norvell’s first full spring with seven transfers who weren’t around for last season’s 3-6 flop. It’s not just former UCF star quarterback McKenzie Milton. The additions include three others ranked in this transfer class’ top 50, according to 247Sports: defensive backs Brandon Moore (UCF) and Jammie Robinson (South Carolina), plus ex-Georgia defensive end Jermaine Johnson.
The seven transfers combine for 72 career Power Five starts, plus 54 more at UCF. At worst, they’ll provide valuable experience and leadership to a roster that was one of the youngest in the nation last season. If the moves work out — if Milton’s surgically repaired leg is healthy enough for him to return to his 2017-18 form, if South Carolina transfer Keir Thomas helps generate a pass rush — the Seminoles should take giant steps forward this fall.
“(The transfers) know what this logo, this brand is about,” Milton said. “We want to help be a part of bringing it back to where it should be.”
Their presence alone is a positive sign; it shows that Norvell knows how to adjust, as all good coaches must.
Norvell doesn’t want to build his team through the portal every year; he would rather fill his roster first with players from the talent-rich high schools in Florida and south Georgia. But that move didn’t make sense this cycle.
Because the pandemic shut down campus visits and in-person evaluations, schools and prospects had less information than usual to base their decisions on. The issues were more challenging for new coaching staffs like the one at FSU compared to more established ones like Florida or Miami, which had more time before the pandemic to scout talent and build relationships.
To mitigate the risk of extra guesswork, Norvell chose to add established veterans through the portal instead of signing less proven prospects out of high school.
“When you get guys that have already done it at this level,” Norvell said, “and you just have a better kind of sample base of who they are and how they fit what we’re trying to do, that helps kind of bridge the gap.”
And that leads to the other major sign of progress at FSU: One of the deepest transfer hauls in the country is bridging the gap to the Seminoles’ most promising recruiting class since Jimbo Fisher’s final year.
FSU picked up an oral commitment Sunday from five-star Lakeland athlete Sam McCall, who decommitted from the Gators in January. McCall is FSU’s second five-star pledge in the 2022 class, joining Georgia cornerback Travis Hunter (who would be FSU’s highest-ranked signee since Cam Akers in 2017).
Oral commitments are, of course, non-binding. Spring recruiting is fluid, and there’s no guarantee FSU will still hold its current top-10 ranking 11 months from now, after the traditional signing day.
Nonetheless, a pair of five-star commitments is an undeniable boost for a program that has signed none of them over the past four years. After Norvell’s first two classes fell outside the top 20, he has as many five-star pledges now as Dan Mullen signed in his first four UF cycles. And if the short-term fixes from the transfer portal create on-field progress this fall, FSU’s long-term recruiting momentum will build.
This won’t be enough to expect Norvell’s ‘Noles to start battling for big-time bowls soon. But it’s enough to make you think that they can get there eventually.
And after four years of miserable mediocrity, that qualifies as major progress.