ORLANDO — After No. 13 Florida State rallied to beat Oklahoma on Thursday night, Mike Norvell’s Seminoles took time to celebrate their climb to the 10-win milestone.
Not too long, though. Reaching one peak was just a reminder of all the other, bigger mountains still out there to scale.
“We’re not done yet…” star quarterback Jordan Travis said after his MVP performance. “This is the end of the chapter of this year, but we still have a lot — a lot — to do.”
“A lot of work,” Norvell echoed.
But a lot of potential, too. Maybe even playoff potential.
When FSU returns to Camping World Stadium for a massive season opener against LSU, the Seminoles likely will be in the top 10. That’s because they’re set to return an unusually high amount of production, starting with Travis, who will be on the short list of preseason Heisman Trophy contenders.
His career-high 418 passing yards Thursday bumped his season total to 3,214 — seventh-most in FSU history. He’ll need only 11 touchdowns next year to break Chris Weinke’s record (80 career touchdowns responsible for).
Though Travis improved from a good quarterback into a great one this season, he still makes too many mistakes (a bad sack against Oklahoma, the end-zone interception at North Carolina State, a costly lost fumble against Clemson).
His leading receiver, Johnny Wilson, will be back, too. So will leading rusher Trey Benson, who finished 10 yards shy of becoming the ninth 1,000-yard rusher in FSU history. If all-ACC end Jared Verse and safety Jammie Robinson delay the NFL draft for another year, FSU’s defense will be poised to improve, too.
It has to. Although FSU ranks 25th in scoring defense (20.6 points per game), that figure is skewed by some fortunate scheduling breaks. The Seminoles dominated their four-game stretch where Georgia Tech, Miami, Syracuse and Louisiana all started quarterbacks who were banged up or backups. Then FSU finished the year by allowing the Gators and Sooners to combine for 515 rushing yards.
It’s not fair to call the year-over-year defensive progress a mirage, but it is reasonable to put that unit in the “a lot of work” category Norvell referenced, alongside the short-yardage offense and kicking game.
Help appears to be on the way. A transfer class ranked second nationally by 247Sports includes the site’s top tight end (South Carolina’s Jaheim Bell), top defensive lineman (Western Michigan’s Braden Fiske) and No. 2 offensive tackle (UTEP’s Jeremiah Byers).
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Those additions probably won’t be enough to make FSU a serious national title contender; the Seminoles haven’t been recruiting at the elite level like Georgia and Alabama. But they should be enough to make FSU a favorite — if not the favorite — in the ACC. If Clemson continues to wobble and the Seminoles continue their climb, a conference championship is a reasonable goal. Accomplish that, and the ‘Noles will be in the College Football Playoff conversation.
“I can promise you, there are great days ahead in Tallahassee,” Norvell said. “The future is very bright for this program, but it is because of the people that we have.”
Norvell doesn’t only mean his coaches and players. He has repeatedly praised FSU’s administration and the alignment that hasn’t existed at the program since long before he arrived.
FSU increased Norvell’s support staff. The Seminoles’ name, image and likeness collectives are active. Earlier this month, the ‘Noles broke ground on the Dunlap Football Center they initially aimed to open in 2021. Better late than never.
Combine the onfield and behind-the-scenes progress, and FSU is better positioned now than at any point since the start of the 2017 season.
“We know what is ahead, and it is going to be work…” Norvell said. “There are no limits to what we can accomplish because I know how these guys are going to work and I know how we’re going to push them to make sure that we get to where ultimately I know where we can go.”
From one peak to the next.
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