There are plenty of questions surrounding the 2021 FSU football team as it enters its second year under Mike Norvell and with the start of spring practice now less than a week away. There will be battles at almost every position on the team to see who makes up the two-deep roster heading into fall camp and for the season opener against Notre Dame on Labor Day weekend.
Heading to spring there are individual questions surrounding each quarterback. Is McKenzie Milton fully healthy? Will Jordan Travis continue to develop as a pocket-passer? Are Chubba Purdy and/or Tate Rodemaker going to take the next step in their develop and compete to be the starter?
We have to assume that Milton is healthy heading into spring drills based off what we’ve heard of his comeback. Then one of the biggest questions, if not the biggest, is who will be FSU’s quarterback in 2021. And if it’s McKenzie Milton, what do you do with Jordan Travis?
Milton, who was 27-6 as a starter at UCF, is one of the winningest quarterbacks in recent college football history. He performed so well while he was at UCF that he finished 8th in the Heisman voting in 2017 and sixth after the 2018 season and led the Knights to victory in his last 23 starts. In 2017 Milton completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,037 yards, 37 touchdowns and nine interceptions on 395 attempts. In 2018 he completed just under 60 percent of his passes for 2,663 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions on 289 attempts. He is by far the most accomplished and experienced passer on FSU’s roster and has played in multiple conference championship games as well as leading his team to an undefeated season in 2017.
Travis started six of the eight games he played in 2020 and proved himself to be the most dynamic player on FSU’s offense. He is the most explosive threat returning for the 2021 season. His ability to run the ball either by design or out of necessity gave the FSU offense life last season and helped spark a consistent running game while opening up options in the passing game that the Seminoles didn’t have with anyone else lined up behind center. Travis completed 55 percent of his passes last season for 1,056 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran of a team-high 559 yards and seven touchdowns, where he proved to be one of the hardest ball carriers in the ACC to tackle.
Purdy and Rodemaker both earned one start and saw action in multiple games coming off the bench but FSU’s offense couldn’t find the same success on offense with either of the two true freshmen at quarterback as it did with Travis at the controls.
Milton and Travis may have different strengths playing the same position but they do have one trait in common. They are both fierce competitors who have led by what they do on the field more than what they say off of it.
Milton is described by some of his former coaches at UCF as a “warrior” and he has proven that on the field and off the field in his comeback from a devastating knee and leg injury that very nearly cost him his life and limb. His comeback is Alex Smith-like.
Watching from my perch in the press box last season it was easy to see Travis’ warrior-like style of play. There were certainly players on FSU’s team who played as hard as Travis did last season but there was no one who played harder.
Conventional wisdom and my time in and around the sport tell me that Milton, if 100 percent healthy, was brought in to be the starter for all the reasons listed above. He would also allow Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to run an offense more similar to the style they employed at Memphis than what they ran this past season with Travis at the helm.
So, if Milton is FSU’s starter, what do you do with Travis, the most electrifying player you have coming back from last season? Is Travis willing to line up at multiple positions?
If so, do you have packages for him at quarterback, where he can be utilized in certain situations, short yardage, goal line, second- and third-and-short situations. These are opportunities where you can take advantage of RPOs. Do you have packages for him at running back or slot receiver, where you can take advantage of his exceptional ability to make plays with the ball in his hand and have he and Milton in the game at the same time?
The answer to each of these questions might be yes but remains to be seen. It will be hailed as an open competition heading into spring and someone could emerge, other than Milton, before the season opener against Notre Dame.
One thing we do know heading into spring practice is Milton is the most proven and best passer on FSU’s roster and that Travis is the team’s most dynamic returning playmaker. If both these things are still true heading into the Notre Dame game it certainly will allow Norvell and Dillingham some creative license with the offense. With Milton as the starter, you would have to think Norvell would still like to see Travis with the ball in his hands 10-15 times a game. Having to worry about Milton and Travis being on the field at the same time would certainly stress opposing defenses and should open up opportunities for other teammates to emerge.
We might not know the answer until Labor Day weekend but it is a question worth asking. And spring is where we begin to find out the answer to this question and many more surrounding Norvell and his FSU football team heading into the 2021 season.