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Florida State turnaround can begin with trophy win over LSU

The Seminoles have lost 22 of their last 32 big games heading into Sunday’s matchup in New Orleans.
Florida State Seminoles coach Mike Norvell has a chance at a marquee win Sunday against LSU.
Florida State Seminoles coach Mike Norvell has a chance at a marquee win Sunday against LSU. [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]
Published Sep. 2

The trophy doesn’t look like much.

It’s silver and gold with a black base. There’s the corporate name (Allstate Louisiana Kickoff) and some Mardi Gras scepters.

But if Florida State can win it Sunday by knocking off LSU at the sold-out Superdome, the Seminoles should hoist it proudly. It will be a tangible sign that the ‘Noles are picking themselves up after years of stumbling.

For ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, FSU’s slide began with a slip. You probably remember the play — Jameis Winston’s tumbling fumble in the 2014-15 semifinal against Oregon that resulted in an infamous scoop-and-score touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Florida State hasn't been the same since this play in the January 2015 Rose Bowl.
Florida State hasn't been the same since this play in the January 2015 Rose Bowl. [ DOUG BENC | AP (2015) ]

“It just seems like they’ve never quite recovered,” Herbstreit said.

The numbers back him up. Before that beatdown at the Rose Bowl, FSU had won 19 of its last 22 games against big-name or ranked opponents. Since then, they’re 10-22. They’ve lost to great Clemson teams, mediocre Miami teams and a Gators team with an interim coach. They’ve lost early in the season (Boise State) and late (Houston) and on all three days of Labor Day Weekend (Alabama, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech).

Sunday is a chance to begin turning things around — or perhaps to continue a transformation that began with the fourth-and-14 triumph over Miami in November.

LSU does not look great. First-year coach Brian Kelly inherited a team that’s 11-12 over the past two seasons and turned over much of the roster.

But it’s still LSU. The Tigers, as always, have talent, including star receiver Kayshon Boutte. Kelly left Notre Dame as the winningest coach in the program’s storied history. In a sport where brand names matter, few programs have the power of LSU.

Related: Brian Kelly’s history vs. Florida State and other Week 1 notes

And that makes them an excellent opponent. LSU is weak enough for the Seminoles to beat but strong enough that a win would resonate — especially because it’s the only game on.

“That’s the joy of coming to Florida State, you’re going to be in these games,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said during his Monday news conference. “You’re going to be prime time on that stage. That’s where you want to be.”

Florida State fans are desperate for the Seminoles to get back to national relevance.
Florida State fans are desperate for the Seminoles to get back to national relevance. [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]

The Seminoles have been on that stage plenty, even in recent years. Now it’s time to prove they belong on it again.

Norvell has given FSU a sense of stability. Herbstreit said Norvell inherited “an absolute dumpster fire” with its culture.

“I feel like he’s been able to weed out the guys that don’t want to do things his way,” Herbstreit said. “And at least what’s remaining are guys that want to go out and play his way and compete within his culture, and that alone should help him. And now we’ll find out.”

Herbstreit doesn’t have a read on FSU, even after the Seminoles’ 40-point win over Duquesne in Week 0. He said the team’s possibilities are as wide open as any team in the country.

He’s right. Slip on garnet glasses, and you can see a nine-win season that would have FSU back on track. With an unlucky break and an injury or two, a fifth consecutive losing season looks equally plausible.

Sunday figures to be a turning point — one way or the other. Beat a big-name opponent in a toss-up game away from home, and it’s easy to envision more victories following as the renewed confidence flows. Lose to LSU, and the Seminoles will have to stew over it through an open date into a tricky Friday night game at Louisville. Things could snowball quickly and disastrously, the way they did each of the last four years.

Related: Are things different with Florida Gators, Florida State? We’ll see this weekend

It all hinges on whether FSU earns a trophy Sunday night. The piece of hardware won’t look like much, but it will go a long way in determining how soon the Seminoles start adding bigger ones to their collection.

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