TALLAHASSEE — As Florida State prepares to open preseason camp Saturday, the same buzzword keeps humming around the Seminoles.
“I can’t wait to watch the growth,” offensive line coach Alex Atkins said.
Growth. It’s not the word FSU fans want to hear, but it’s an appropriate one as Mike Norvell enters his second season. Judge the ‘Noles on their growth — their progress from last season and their progress during this fall.
Blue-blood programs like FSU should rarely be graded on a curve, but last year’s Seminoles deserved a mulligan due to the coronavirus complications that hit first-year coaches the most, extreme youth and the fact that they had to use four different starting quarterbacks.
A bowl appearance has been the minimum expectation around FSU for almost four decades, but things are different now. The Seminoles don’t have the talent they did at the height of the Jimbo Fisher era. This schedule is rough, with five opponents who will start the season ranked (Notre Dame, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami and Florida). Analytics and betting lines peg FSU around 5½ wins, which seems about right. Even that low number would show progress from last year’s 3-6 slog.
“It’s going to be a great experience for all of us involved to see the growth that’s taken place,” Norvell said. “That’s one of the things that is a great indicator to the mind-set, the identify of our football team, is to see that growth from where we finished up in April to where we are taking the field (Saturday), and as we progress through the next 25 practices and those opportunities.”
Norvell didn’t detail the areas of growth he wanted to see beyond things like fundamentals and consistency. But some of them are obvious.
The pass rush that ranked No. 119 nationally last year in sacks has to improve, and maybe it will with the addition of Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson. The offense Norvell says is built for playmakers needs to start looking like his explosive Memphis teams. The offensive line must continue its years-long push toward respectability.
Ideally, FSU would discover a long-term answer at quarterback, too, even if UCF grad transfer McKenzie Milton earns the starting job. Norvell called his quarterback room “really impressive,” and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham likes how Milton, Jordan Travis, Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker push each other.
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“We’re going to challenge each other to grow, grow, grow, grow,” Dillingham said.
Realistically, the program’s growth will take time, beyond this year. It took years for the ‘Noles to slide into this rut, so it will take years for them to climb out of it.
The good thing for FSU is that the climb, perhaps, has already begun. Norvell gushed Friday about the transfers and freshmen FSU brought in this offseason. His recruiting class is ranked eighth nationally with the No. 1 overall recruit (Georgia cornerback Travis Hunter) and a blue-chip quarterback (AJ Duffy from Bradenton’s IMG Academy). Assuming it sticks together, it looks like the type of building-block class that can transform a program.
But that all depends on this season. It all depends on FSU’s growth.
Six wins would double last year’s win total. That’s tangible progress. Staying competitive in defeat would be progress, too, after last year’s blowout at Miami and lopsided losses to Pitt and Louisville.
None of this lives up to the standard FSU fans have come to expect, but it’s what they should embrace this fall. This season is all about growth — and all the growing pains that come with it.
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