Um, not quite.
The ‘Noles were better, yes. Their breakthrough, 10-win season and top-12 finish were satisfying for Mike Norvell’s third season, and they created an offseason of hype around FSU as an ACC frontrunner, if not a College Football Playoff contender. But a three-loss season isn’t back for FSU. Norvell has acknowledged as much.
“Yes, there’s been some strides, and we’re excited about this year,” Norvell said this offseason. “We’re just getting started to where we’re going.”
Which leads us to Sunday night’s top-10 showdown in Orlando — the headliner of college football’s opening weekend. If Norvell’s No. 8 ‘Noles can find a way to beat this No. 5 LSU team at Camping World Stadium? Then we can start discussing the b-word in earnest.
That’s because the Tigers are in a much different place than they were a year ago in New Orleans in Brian Kelly’s LSU debut. They’ve gone from a bunch of unknowns — a new staff with a new quarterback — to a serious playoff contender.
Jayden Daniels is no longer an unknown; he’s the first-team preseason all-SEC quarterback. Linebacker Harold Perkins was a blue-chip freshman playing in his first game then; now he’s a budding star and a preseason All-American. Kelly fortified the roster with one of the only transfer classes ranked higher than the one Norvell signed.
But FSU is in a much better position, too. Defensive end Jared Verse is no longer a rookie who had just leveled up from Albany; he, like Perkins, is a preseason All-American. Quarterback Jordan Travis has jumped from good to great with the chance to be even better in his final season. Receiver Johnny Wilson and running back Trey Benson have gone from unproven portal acquisitions to all-conference talents.
“We know what’s in store for us,” Kelly said. “It’s an outstanding football team. Mike Norvell’s done a great job building his program back to elite status.”
Norvell has the chance to prove that Sunday, because there are justified questions about his team. FSU ended the season on a six-game winning streak, but five of those victories came against teams that finished with losing records; the other was Syracuse, which went 7-6.
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The Seminoles are unquestionably better than they’ve been at any point since 2016, if not earlier. But the step between winning 10 games and winning 11 (or more) is massive.
Verse, clearly, thinks FSU can make it — and contend for the playoff.
“I don’t think there’s any doubting it,” Verse said at the ACC’s football kickoff. “If we do what we’re able to do, we compete the way we’re able to compete, and we play the way we’re able to play and we play as one, I don’t think there’s anyone that can stop us, really.”
LSU could, which makes this matchup much more enticing than it was a year ago, when both programs were wild cards. Now they’re reestablished, with rosters talented enough to vie for championships.
“There are great expectations here in this program …” Norvell said this offseason. “(If) you don’t like them, this is definitely not the place to come. We want to have those kind of expectations year in and year out.”
It took a while, but they’ve finally returned to Tallahassee. All that’s left now is for the Seminoles to prove they deserve them — and, perhaps, that they’re finally back.
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