Florida State Seminoles — 2020 Syracuse Football preview

Dontae Strickland
Dontae Strickland rushes downfield against Florida State. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2020 ACC schedule on November 19 against Florida State.


The Willie Taggart era proved to be disastrous at Florida State, with the Seminoles missing a bowl game in his first season, the first time for the school since 1976. Things weren’t looking much better in the 2019 season, with Taggart being dismissed midway into a 4-5 season (the team ultimately finished 6-7).

Overall, Taggart finished with a 9-12 overall record and dropped every game played against rivals Clemson, Miami and Florida. That was enough for FSU to stomach an eye-popping $18 million buyout, and Taggart is now coaching at nearby Florida Atlantic.

FSU is now gambling on former Memphis head coach Mike Norvell, who at just 38 has only four years of head coaching experience. But during that period, Norvell turned Memphis into one of the nation’s top offenses, going 38-15 in the process, including a 12-1 season in 2019.

“I’m humbled and honored for the opportunity to be the head coach at Florida State University, one of the iconic brands in college football,” Norvell said in a release. “I’m so very excited for the future and the opportunity to return Florida State football to one of the nation’s elite. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running, putting together a great signing class, a tremendous coaching staff and joining arms with our current and former players to help elevate our football program each and every day.”

The Seminoles hoping that Norvell can approach the heights of Jimbo Fisher, who at one point led FSU to 29 straight wins and the 2013 national championship.


New offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is the Seminoles’ fourth OC in as many years, and he’s looking to install a married pro-style offense with up-tempo concepts.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against NC State

Dillingham had worked under Norvell at Memphis before taking the offensive coordinator position at Auburn in the 2019 season. In his final game as the Tigers’ OC, his team scored 48 points in an upset win over No. 5 Alabama, knocking the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoffs, and setting a new record for points allowed in the Nick Saban era.

His starting quarterback should be junior James Blackman, who has thrown for 4,602 yards and 36 touchdowns in his career. But he’s also racked up 19 interceptions, and struggled through a Sun Bowl loss to Arizona State, throwing four interceptions in a 20-14 loss.

Perhaps top 200 recruit and four-star freshman quarterback Chubba Purdy or sophomore dual-threat signal caller Jordan Travis could give Blackman competition.

Still, the major issue was keeping Blackman upright last year. The Seminoles surrendered 48 sacks, and are hoping that FIU tackle transfer Devontay Love-Taylor can help out right away.


The good news for the defense is that they only lose one starter from last year’s team. The bad news it that the defense finished 90th in total defense and 119th in passing defense.

Taggart started his tenure in the 4-3 before switching to the 3-4 in 2019. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller will revert the team back to 4-3, and has some really nice pieces to work with.

All-ACC cornerback Asante Samuel is back fresh off a season where he led the ACC in pass breakups (14) and finished eight in the country.

Bednarik semifinalist and nose tackle Marvin Wilson returns for his senior season after recording 5.0 sacks and 44 tackles. He is widely considered an NFL prospect and is coming off a First-Team All ACC season.

And it’s also worth mentioning Second Team All-ACC safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who recorded 101 tackles, the first Seminole to top the 100 mark since 2014.


Norvell was one of the most coveted coaches in the offseason, and Florida State seems headed back in the right direction. But it’ll take some time to undo the damage that Taggart did to the program.

To be sure, the Seminoles needed to change direction after Fisher struggled to bring in elite talent, but it will be a few seasons before Florida State can reemerge as the team we remember from the early 2010s. For now, it’ll need to build up talent and get back to a lower tiered bowl game as it tries to eventually challenge Clemson for ACC Atlantic supremacy.

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.