As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the spring/summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with FSU on Nov. 12 with their major storylines.
Going into his third year as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles, Mike Norvell has a lot to prove.
After a disappointing 3-6 campaign in 2020 could theoretically be waved off as the entire college football landscape was dealing with the logistical problems brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, Norvell’s Noles followed it up last year with a 5-7 campaign that saw uncharacteristic losses to lesser teams and several one-score loss margins.
CAN NORVELL TURN IT AROUND?
The trouble began with a promising offensive performance lost in overtime to Notre Dame to begin the year, but losing to Dame is nothing to be embarrassed about. Dropping the next game 20-17 to FCS underdog Jacksonville State however, was a different story.
They followed that performance with two more losses to start the year 0-4 before beating our Orange with a last second field goal to spark a mid-season turnaround. One game away from bowl contention, however, they lost to the in-state rival Florida Gators to end the year just short of bowl eligibility.
Looking ahead to 2022, Norvell has the advantage of experience and the same offensive and defensive systems to give his players some stability and build on what worked last year. A look at the numbers show their best area on both sides of the ball was the run game- they were the 52nd ranked rushing offense in the country with 177.8 yards per game, and the 55th ranked rushing defense, giving up 144.6 ypg. I’d expect Norvell to try and build on both of those strengths as a foundation for success.
» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Pitt
JORDAN TRAVIS NEEDS TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD
If senior QB Jordan Travis can take a step up next year, it will raise the ceiling of the whole team, whether or not the struggling defense makes the same improvement.
Travis was actually on the cusp of being great last year, as he’s another of the dual threat QB’s that we’ve profiled in the series so far. While his passing numbers through 10 games were rather pedestrian at 1,539 yards with 15 TDs and 6 interceptions, he added 530 yards and seven TDs on the ground. That brings his career rushing totals to 1,317 yards and 17 TDs, making him Florida State’s all-time leader from the QB position in both categories.
Travis’s completion percentage has increased every year as well, up to 62.9% last year, and that kind of talent at the most important position gives you the ability to compete with every team in college football. If Travis can take advantage of another year in Norvell’s system and utilize some of the incoming receiver talent through the transfer portal(like Mycan Pittman from Oregon and Johnny Wilson from Arizona State), six or more wins could easily be on the horizon next year.
MATCH UP THAT MATTERS FOR SYRACUSE
The defensive line. State’s defense took a hit this offseason losing Jermaine Johnson II, the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year to the NFL draft, as well as fellow defensive end Keir Thomas. The two combined for 18 of FSU’s 33 sacks, and that production will surely be missed.
Even with both on the field Syracuse had no trouble moving the ball at will against Florida State in their match up last year, with Garrett Shrader rushing for 137 yards and three touchdowns, and Sean Tucker having 102 yards of his own. FSU added transfer Jared Verse from Albany to juice up their pass rush some, but that’s asking a lot of a player making the move up from a smaller school.
Shrader and Tucker, along with new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, have to be excited to face off against this line again without the two former stars in town. State has plenty of size in the middle of their line at the tackle spot with players like Fabian Lovett and Robert Cooper, but as we covered in my offensive line positional preview Syracuse has a massive size advantage of their own.
In the end, Florida State is an underperforming team the past couple of years with losses in both close games to good teams, and embarrassing losses to bad ones. For their part though, they’ve got consistency in their coaching staff and at the quarterback position, and their dual-threat QB seems to be ascending every year. I’d hold off on them winning anything more than seven games, but six with a minor bowl game seems like a fair outcome.
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