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FSU coach Mike Norvell: ‘We’re getting close.’ The Seminoles better be

Norvell’s tone sounded different on the eve of his third spring, raising expectations around Tallahassee.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell spoke with reporters before the start of spring practice Friday in Tallahassee.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell spoke with reporters before the start of spring practice Friday in Tallahassee. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Mar. 4|Updated Mar. 4

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Mike Norvell has always been upfront about his Seminoles’ situation. He never promised a quick turnaround. His prognostications have never been Pollyanna-ish. His assessments have been realistic internally and externally — something recruits noticed and appreciated.

And that made one refrain from Friday’s news conference especially interesting.

“I definitely think we’re getting close,” Norvell said Friday, a day before the start of spring practice.

Related: Why Florida State’s top recruits chose Mike Norvell, ‘Noles after two rough years

They better be. Norvell has had enough time to turn over the roster, signing 83 of FSU’s 109 players. The 26 holdovers have had two years to understand his system, and his (relatively stable) staff has had two years to figure out how best to use them. Even with caveats that came with his 2020 first season, if the Seminoles aren’t close to where they need to be by now, then they probably never will be under Norvell.

Though Norvell never made excuses for the struggles, he never ignored the tough realities he inherited, either. The lost spring from 2020. The youth that was all over his roster each of the past two seasons. Attrition at key positions.

But Norvell’s tone was different Friday. He didn’t talk about changing the culture and standards, the way he did before his first spring. Those changes have already taken place. He didn’t talk about the program’s encouraging momentum, the way he did before his second spring.

Instead, he talked up a team that’s bigger, stronger and faster and “starting to look the part.” He raised expectations — or acknowledged that external expectations deserve to be raised this fall.

The return of starting quarterback Jordan Travis is one reason for optimism around FSU.
The return of starting quarterback Jordan Travis is one reason for optimism around FSU. [ MARY SCHWALM | AP ]

“Like I said earlier, I think we’re getting really close,” Norvell said again. “We need to take a jump.”

If his Seminoles take that jump in Year 3, there will be two reasons why, starting with depth.

Norvell acknowledged that inexperience and a lack of depth forced some players into action before they were ready. The Seminoles shouldn’t expect that problem this year.

Norvell touted his 23 mid-year newcomers — the most he has ever had and a figure that ranks among the most in the country. The extra bodies will allow FSU to split practices better, giving more reps to more players to boost their short- and long-term development.

One beneficiary will be a receiving corps that was unremarkable last season — a damning thing to say in a state teeming with athletes. FSU added four Power Five transfers at the position, including Winston Wright (West Virginia) and Johnny Wilson (Arizona State). They’ll collectively add size, length and playmaking ability to a unit that was down to two fully healthy players in the season finale against Florida.

Winston Wright is expected to make a big impact on FSU after transferring from West Virginia.
Winston Wright is expected to make a big impact on FSU after transferring from West Virginia. [ RICK SCUTERI | AP ]

“When you don’t have that depth and the competition here, it makes it harder,” receivers coach Ron Dugans said. “There were bright spots, but not the consistency that needed to be there.”

Which leads to the other major issue FSU must address this spring.

Like many young teams, FSU was too inconsistent last year. The Seminoles took a top-10 Notre Dame team to overtime in Week 1 … and had their worst loss of the modern era the next week against Jacksonville State. The same swings took place during games (like the back-and-forth fight with Miami). If FSU really is close to breaking through, that can’t happen.

“The word that I’m looking for is consistency,” Norvell said.

But the word FSU fans should be hanging on is the one he used earlier: close.

Eight of FSU’s 12 games last year were decided by one score (nine if you count Clemson, which was a one-possession game until the final fluky play). The ‘Noles went 4-5 in those games. So close, yet so far away.

Related: Breaking down the state of Florida’s full 2022 college football schedule

They should be progressing thanks to a top-20 class of newcomers (almost all of whom are here for spring ball). The internal competition has jumped. Expectations have, too.

As Norvell begins this pivotal spring, he thinks his team is close. We’ll find out this fall whether he’s right – and whether that’s good enough for the breakthrough he needs.

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