TALLAHASSEE — As Florida State prepares to begin spring football practice Monday, the Seminoles will encounter an opponent they haven’t seen since early 2017: enormous expectations.
Coming off a breakthrough 10-win season, FSU is a way-too-early ACC favorite and legitimate College Football Playoff contender for the first time since the colossal Alabama matchup that started Jimbo Fisher’s final season.
“I am ecstatic that people are talking good about Florida State nationally. They should,” coach Mike Norvell said Friday. “This program deserves that. This program has earned that through the test of time.
“We got away from it for a little bit, but the work by the young men that I get to coach and what they’ve done has put us back in that national conversation.”
The Seminoles got back there both slowly and suddenly.
The slow build happened practice by practice, prospect by prospect, over Norvell’s first three seasons. Jordan Travis grew from a raw passer with 10 career completions into a Heisman Trophy contender. The offensive line blossomed out of its historically bad stretch.
Arguably its top returner, left tackle Robert Scott, was a member of Norvell’s first recruiting class. Another, Maurice Smith, is entering his fifth season. More recent additions like blue-chip redshirt freshman Julian Armella have created enough talent and depth to spark high-level competition.
“That’s the way it should be,” offensive coordinator Alex Atkins said.
The fact that it’s similar at defensive line — a hard-to-stock position group Norvell believes can be his team’s biggest strength — breeds optimism that this roster can make the jump from very good to great.
FSU’s sudden moves have led to even more confidence. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Travis declare for the NFL draft after his breakout season. He stayed. So did top receiver Johnny Wilson and FSU’s top defensive players, tackle Fabien Lovett and end Jared Verse (a potential first-round pick).
“(Verse) coming back just created an even deeper layer of depth,” defensive ends coach John Papuchis said.
FSU added one more layer through the transfer portal. Only LSU and Auburn added more blue-chip transfers this cycle than the Seminoles (seven).
Because the Seminoles didn’t know whether Verse would return, they snagged 247Sports’ No. 2 edge rusher, South Carolina’s Gilber Edmond. They weren’t sure about Lovett’s future, either, so they took 247Sports’ No. 2 defensive lineman, Western Michigan’s Braden Fiske. Now they have all four.
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How important is a deep rotation like that? The only time Norvell used the word “championship” in his news conference was when he referenced the way Georgia swapped out defensive linemen against TCU last season.
That doesn’t mean FSU has amassed enough elite linemen to join Georgia and Alabama as a superpower. It does, however, mean the Seminoles are much closer than they were a year ago, when the jury was still out on Norvell.
“Obviously you enjoy the fact that there’s a little bit more buzz around the town and around college football about what this program is going to be,” Papuchis said, “but we’ve still got to go do it on the field.”
Starting Monday with their first practice of the spring.
One line jumps out from athletic director Michael Alford’s talking points and notes from last week’s memorable board of trustees meeting about the ACC’s financial situation: “Exploring every option for the best interest of FSU.”
Norvell mentioned redshirt sophomore Deuce Spann (Lakewood High) as one of the receivers with a chance to earn a much bigger role. “He’s shown a lot of big-play capability,” Norvell said.
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