Advertisement

Memo to college football playoff officials: Don’t you dare overlook FSU

John Romano | Their conference and schedule have been mocked in 2023, but the Seminoles are undefeated and deserve their shot if they win the ACC.
 
Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach (4) celebrates with defensive lineman Patrick Payton (11) after he intercepted a Florida pass late in the second half of Saturday's game in Gainesville.
Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach (4) celebrates with defensive lineman Patrick Payton (11) after he intercepted a Florida pass late in the second half of Saturday's game in Gainesville. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Nov. 26, 2023|Updated Nov. 26, 2023

GAINESVILLE — Like it or not, the Seminoles are still here.

Still undefeated, still hungry, still more impressive than Alabama.

Whether they earned style points or not, the Seminoles still completed the job against the Gators Saturday night.

Still in contention, still unmarked, still more accomplished than Oregon. And Texas. And Ohio State.

Yes, Florida State should move back into the top four of the College Football Rankings after a 24-15 comeback victory against Florida that completed a perfect 12-0 regular season. It wasn’t a sexy victory, and it wasn’t dominant. From a distance, it may not have even been impressive.

But FSU has completed every required task, and only three other major conference programs can say the same.

“We’re proud of our team and proud of everybody associated with the program, because this is a long time coming,” said FSU coach Mike Norvell. “Heck of a journey, and the great thing about it is it’s not done yet.”

The Seminoles have earned the right to control their own destiny, but college football doesn’t always play fair. And, as unlikely as it seems, there is a doomsday scenario where Florida State could be snubbed when it comes to the playoffs.

You see, FSU is sort of the Charlie Brown of 2023. Popular, but not universally feared or respected.

And if the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game doesn’t go better than Saturday night, there’s a slight chance the Seminoles could have the ball pulled out from under them.

Florida State running back Trey Benson (3) scores a touchdown on a 26-yard run, in front of Florida safety Jordan Castell (14) during the fourth quarter.
Florida State running back Trey Benson (3) scores a touchdown on a 26-yard run, in front of Florida safety Jordan Castell (14) during the fourth quarter. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

“I’ve been asked a lot, ‘What do you need to do? This, that?’ Just go be themselves. Go put that on display,” Norvell said. “Because I know the team that we have.”

So what’s the perception problem facing FSU? Well, its conference is sketchy, its schedule is kinda soft and its starting quarterback is on crutches. And those kinds of details could matter when playoff officials get together to determine the year’s final four survivors.

The ACC’s image took another body blow when Louisville was upset by Kentucky Saturday afternoon. So if the Seminoles struggle to beat Louisville in the ACC championship with quarterback Jordan Travis out for the season, there could be some clamor about FSU’s worthiness as a playoff team.

And if Alabama shocks Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game, or Oregon upsets Washington in the Pac-12 title game, things could get interesting around Tallahassee.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

So here’s a plea to those guardians of the playoff pool:

Consider the heart of the Seminoles instead of the reputations of other programs.

It is not FSU’s fault that the ACC’s prestige has taken a step backward this season. And it’s not FSU’s fault that two very attractive non-conference opponents — LSU and Florida — were not major factors this season.

The Seminoles have risen from the ashes of a 5-7 season just two years ago to complete their first perfect regular season since 2014. They endured the tragic loss of Travis last week and went on the road to beat their main rival with Tate Rodemaker making the second start of his college career.

His team was averaging 40.1 points a game, but it appeared Norvell wanted to lessen the pressure on Rodemaker. It was almost as if he wanted to ease his new quarterback into the flow of the game with a collection of swing and shovel passes in the first quarter.

Florida State quarterback Tate Rodemaker (18) looks for a receiver as he is pressured by Florida safety Jordan Castell (14) and defensive lineman Caleb Banks (88) during the first half.
Florida State quarterback Tate Rodemaker (18) looks for a receiver as he is pressured by Florida safety Jordan Castell (14) and defensive lineman Caleb Banks (88) during the first half. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Even when the Seminoles fell behind 12-0 midway through the second quarter, Norvell did not overreact. Backed up on their own 10 with 4:02 remaining in the first half, Norvell stuck with his running game and got a 16-yard gain from Trey Benson. That was followed by another negative-yardage pass to Benson, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Gators gave FSU another first down.

Only then did Rodemaker begin throwing downfield, hitting Jaheim Bell for 29 yards on a post that matched his entire passing output for the first 27 minutes. Six plays later, the Seminoles were in the end zone and the comeback was underway.

“We haven’t played a perfect game. We’ve had ups and downs,” Norvell said. “We’ve all embraced the work that’s necessary to rise to the occasion. And that’s what this team has done. They’ve answered the bell, they showed their heart.”

Is Florida State one of the four best college football teams in the nation?

The scoreboard has consistently said yes. The standings on Nov. 26 say yes. The CFP rankings Tuesday night will likely say yes.

And if the Seminoles beat Louisville to go 13-0, the folks in charge of setting the playoff field had better say yes.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Instagram, X and Facebook.