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The rise and fall of FSU football, as seen through Louisville

For some reason, the Cardinals have brought out the Seminoles’ best, worst and ugliest.
Florida State running back Treshaun Ward and the rest of the Seminoles have seen plenty of good and bad against Louisville.
Florida State running back Treshaun Ward and the rest of the Seminoles have seen plenty of good and bad against Louisville. [ TIMOTHY D. EASLEY | AP ]
Published Sep. 22

We don’t know whether Florida State’s win at Louisville last week will serve as a turning point in the Seminoles’ turnaround under Mike Norvell. Let’s see how FSU does the rest of the season, starting Saturday against Boston College.

We do, however, know that it was a moment of growth against the Cardinals in a series that showcases FSU’s rise and fall:

Related: AP top 25: Why Florida State moved past Miami Hurricanes in our rankings

2014

Dalvin Cook and the Seminoles rallied to win at Louisville in 2014 — another too-close victory in a season full of them.
Dalvin Cook and the Seminoles rallied to win at Louisville in 2014 — another too-close victory in a season full of them. [ TIMOTHY D. EASLEY | AP (2014) ]

No. 2 FSU fell behind 21-0 through 28 minutes before Jameis Winston rallied the ‘Noles to a 42-31 road win. It was a memorable performance because it revealed this team’s resilience and exposed its fatal flaw. FSU had similarly slow starts in victories against Notre Dame, Miami and Virginia. The trend continued until the Rose Bowl semifinal against a talented Oregon team that refused to let the ’Noles come back.

2015

Another slow start (down 7-6 at halftime) and another rally (a 41-21 win). “I think you saw what a team can do in the first half when it’s not totally focused or it presses itself,” coach Jimbo Fisher said afterward. “In the second half, when the team relaxes, it played up to its capability …” With Dalvin Cook (163 rushing yards, two touchdowns), the No. 11 Seminoles had a lot of potential. But they couldn’t sustain it, which explains why they ended up in a New Year’s Six game, not the College Football Playoff.

Related: Why Florida Gators, FSU fans should be grateful for Herm Edwards’ Arizona State era

2016

Losing a top-10 matchup on the road against Lamar Jackson was not a shock. Losing 63-20 was — especially since the game didn’t even seem that close. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit pegged this humiliation as one of the starting points for the program’s slide, and he’s not wrong. It was a major blow to the program’s reputation.

2017

Florida State fan John Stevens shows a sign that promoted his message at the 2017 Louisville game. Jimbo Fisher didn't care for it. (Courtesy: Brandon Gans)
Florida State fan John Stevens shows a sign that promoted his message at the 2017 Louisville game. Jimbo Fisher didn't care for it. (Courtesy: Brandon Gans) [ BRANDON GANS | Special to the Times ]

A fumble led to a last-second field goal and a 31-28 home defeat. The memorable part, however, came after the game, when fan John Stevens yelled at Fisher to hire new coaches. Fisher snapped back, telling him to walk down to the field and say that. The viral exchange revealed how tense things had gotten in Tallahassee. Six weeks later, Fisher left for Texas A&M.

Related: From 2019: Remember the ‘Jimbo! New coaches!’ FSU football fan? He’s still frustrated

2018

FSU came back from a 14-point halftime deficit and earned a 28-24 victory on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Deondre Francois to Nyqwan Murray in the closing minutes. The rally felt like a sign that FSU had turned a corner in Willie Taggart’s first season with a program-building win. Instead, it was merely a fine win that improved FSU to 3-2 before things crumbled.

2019

Florida State quarterback James Blackman helped the Seminoles beat Louisville in front of the program's smallest crowd in decades.
Florida State quarterback James Blackman helped the Seminoles beat Louisville in front of the program's smallest crowd in decades. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP (2019) ]

After blowing a three-score lead, the Seminoles held on for a 35-24 win. But the bigger story was in the stands. The announced attendance (46,530) was FSU’s lowest since 1983. The four other least-attended games in the previous 30 years were also under Taggart. FSU fans had given up on Taggart, which made his eight-figure buyout easier to stomach when he was fired five games later.

2020

FSU’s 48-16 loss wasn’t much different from most that season. The Seminoles were overwhelmed by a team that finished 4-7, starting a three-game losing streak that included double-digit losses to mediocre Pitt and a good-not-great North Carolina State team. Of FSU’s nine games that season, five were defeats by 16 points or more.

Related: How much will USF’s on-campus football stadium cost? Here’s a glimpse.

2021

FSU’s 31-23 loss wasn’t much different from most of that season, either. It was a close call in a year filled with them (Notre Dame, Jacksonville State, Clemson and Florida). The ‘Noles turned a 31-7 deficit into a close game before a last-minute McKenzie Milton interception sealed the 0-4 start. Two days later, Norvell went on a passionate defense of the program he’s building and the recruits he was seeking. Since then, FSU is 8-3.

2022

Pinellas Park High alumnus Lawrance Toafili helped FSU earn a gritty win over Louisville last week.
Pinellas Park High alumnus Lawrance Toafili helped FSU earn a gritty win over Louisville last week. [ TIMOTHY D. EASLEY | AP ]

Down three of its top players (quarterback Jordan Travis, tackle Robert Scott and defensive end Jared Verse), the Seminoles overcame a pair of fourth-quarter deficits for a 35-31 road win. It was a victory based on depth (like backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker and offensive lineman Darius Washington), transfers (Arizona State’s Johnny Wilson) and determination. It was also, notably, FSU’s second down-to-the-wire-close win in three games — a sign, perhaps, that this program is learning how to win again.

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