After No. 13 Florida State was picked to play its bowl game against Oklahoma in Orlando, Seminoles coach Mike Norvell raved about the stage.
“It’s a great opportunity with two of the great storied programs in all of college football history,” Norvell said. “To be able to link up in a great game and a great place, great atmosphere, I’m glad we have been able to play here in our home state.”
It calls to mind the last time FSU found itself in this situation — facing a great, storied program in an Orlando bowl: an 18-14 triumph over Notre Dame in 2011. The names have changed. What was then called the Champs Sports Bowl is now the Cheez-It Bowl. The Florida Citrus Bowl is now known as Camping World Stadium.
But a look back reveals some encouraging parallels between an FSU program that was poised for a breakthrough 11 years ago and one that looks ready to take the next step in 2023.
At the time, the victory over a Notre Dame team led by Brian Kelly and Manti Te’o was memorable for how it happened. FSU erased a 14-0 second-half deficit to find a way to beat a marquee opponent and finish Jimbo Fisher’s second season at a solid 9-4.
It wasn’t a turning point for the program, exactly. More like validation — another sign that FSU was on its way back to glory. That the right pieces were in the right places.
Lamarcus Joyner kickstarted the rally with a 77-yard kickoff return. He was an All-America defensive back on the team that won the national championship two years later.
Four freshmen started on the offensive line. Three of them (Josue Matias, Tre’ Jackson and Bobby Hart) were starters in the 2013 title run, while the fourth (Austin Barron) was a valuable contributor off the bench.
The bowl’s MVP was freshman Rashad Greene, who had all five of his catches (including the go-ahead touchdown) in the second half. He left FSU as the most prolific receiver in program history and had a game-high 147 receiving yards in the BCS championship triumph over Auburn.
Terrence Brooks sealed the Notre Dame win by picking off a pass in the end zone for his first career interception. He blossomed into a second-team all-ACC defensive back by the time FSU won it all at the Rose Bowl.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Together, those performances looked like the foundation for brighter days.
“This was a win in the Champs,” Gary Shelton wrote that night in what was then the St. Petersburg Times, “and who knows, it might end up contributing to the next FSU champs.”
So what about this year? Would winning the Cheez-It Bowl mean FSU is on its way to retaking its spot as the sport’s, uh, big cheese?
Not necessarily. But it would, at minimum, be another indicator that the right pieces are in the right places.
Though some notable contributors will have NFL decisions to make in the coming days, the core you’ll see in Orlando will return next year. Quarterback Jordan Travis will be a preseason Heisman Trophy contender. Running back Trey Benson will be one of the ACC’s top running backs, and second-leading tackler Tatum Bethune will be back, too.
Add in the potential recruiting and transfer portal boost from a 10-win season (which FSU can secure by beating Oklahoma), and you can envision a 2022 breakthrough setting the stage for a big-time 2023 season.
“I’m of the belief that the gap is being closed in the ACC between Clemson and Florida State,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said earlier this month.
Eleven years ago in Orlando, FSU showed it was closing the gap between itself and the nation’s elite teams with an impressive win over a big-name program. Thursday night, the Seminoles have a chance to do it again.
• • •