Seven questions, thoughts and concerns for FSU entering the offseason

The Florida State Seminoles ended a roller-coaster season on Saturday, losing against their in-state rival Florida 24-21. As the program enters its third offseason under Mike Norvell, here are seven questions, thoughts and concerns about Florida State football moving forward.

Not so special teams

It’s been an inconsistent season for the special teams, which are coordinated by John Papuchis. There have been a few bright spots, such as punter Alex Mastromanno and the punt coverage team, who had a very strong season when called upon. However, the Seminoles failed solidify either a kick or punt returner. Six different Seminoles (Jashaun Corbin, Treshaun Ward, Ja’Khi Douglas, Travis Jay, Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson) auditioned for the role and no one looked more convincing than the other. 

It may seem small in the moment, but with an ill-advised return here and a confusing fair catch there, the hidden yardage piled up and the Seminoles lost a lot of field position over the course of the season. Papuchis is responsible for the defense’s best unit in the defensive ends. Finding or teaching an athlete that can learn to field kicks shouldn’t be hard.

QB depth not looking Purdy

Quarterback Chubba Purdy entered the transfer portal three weeks ago, before the North Carolina State game, in a move that surprised many. The season finale against Florida showed yet another opportunity where his services would have been welcomed. In the two drives that Jordan Travis was in the locker room with an injury, Florida State quarterbacks looked woeful. McKenzie Milton threw a bad interception, and Tate Rodemaker looked green. This trend manifested a few times throughout the season.

Rodemaker will get another full offseason and verbal commitment AJ Duffy will likely enter early. With Milton and Purdy departing, Florida State will have to reshuffle the deck in the quarterback room. The Seminoles need to find a confident next man up so that the world does not seem lost when Travis is injured.

Travis is the guy

Speaking of Travis, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham reminded us earlier in the season that when you piece all of Jordan Travis’ starts together over the course of the past few years, he barely has a full season of playing time. With that in mind, looking back over the course of this season, how many games were won purely because Travis was the quarterback? Syracuse, Miami – definitely. North Carolina, Boston College? It’s hard to argue against the correlation with Travis and those wins. 

The toughness and growth of Travis, especially in the passing game, has been a definite positive for Florida State this season. With two years of eligibility left and another year in the offense forthcoming, the further development of Travis will be an exciting storyline. He’s the best candidate behind center Florida State has had in five seasons.

Playing the portal

The portal is becoming an integral part of team building in modern day college football. Seniors Jermaine Johnson (Georgia) and Keir Thomas (South Carolina) are prime examples of that as the two transfers blossomed into dominant ends and important leaders for Florida State defensively this season. Other key contributors from the portal such as Travis, Jashaun Corbin, Devontay Love-Taylor and Dillan Gibbons have been invaluable additions for a young team learning how to win. Mike Norvell has played the portal extremely well in his first two seasons. With how many key players have come to Tallahassee via the portal, it seems like Florida State has become a popular destination for whatever players are seeking, whether that be playing time, redemption, or a fresh start. Norvell has dipped into the portal frequently, and it will be important for him to continue to do so as he builds the culture he seeks at Florida State while cementing himself further into Floridian recruiting grounds.

Growing pains

The Seminoles did a lot of growing up this season and, as such, experienced a lot of growing pains. This was a very young team, with most seniority coming via the above mentioned transfer portal. With senior transfers providing leadership for underclassmen, Florida State saw some serious growth in players such as Kalen DeLoach who, much to the praise of the coaching staff, continued to grow increasingly confident and play considerably well down the stretch.

There are going to be a lot of questions about just how much this team has grown moving forward. You saw clear improvement over the course of the season, but how will that translate to next season? It’s a talking point for nearly every rebuilding program. The growing pains are worth it only if they produce positive results down the line. 

Helping hands

We found out that Travis can indeed throw the football this year. However, much like we figured at the start of the season, there were few receivers that could catch the football consistently. Keyshawn Helton and Ontaria Wilson returned to lead the wide receiver corps and the results were mixed. The pair produced some brilliant catches but, more often than not, their presence felt fairly pedestrian. Sure, this year’s offense primarily operated on establishing the run and then capitalizing off of play-action but, even then, it was a struggle at times to get open and hold onto the football. It forced Dillingham to scale back throwing the ball downfield and focus on scheming receivers open with screens, rub routes, rollouts and throwing to backs out of the backfield. 

It left a lot on the back of Travis and the read option game. It was very evident when defenses adjusted to stop the run, the offense promptly sputtered off course. The next evolution of the offense is finding young playmakers other than Travis. Transfers such as Andrew Parchment were valuable at times during the season. The question: Is the caliber of talent needed to upgrade this position available in the portal or more likely with incoming freshmen? Malik McClain, Ja’Khi Douglas and Lawrance Toafili have shown a lot of promise. It remains to be seen who else can emerge.

Prevent defense

This season has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotion and it’s hard to pin down exactly how to feel about it all. On the one hand, the fact that Florida State entered Gainesville on Saturday with the opportunity to be bowl-eligible after an 0-4 start is impressive. If the Noles won, they would be the fourth team in history to ever reach a bowl game after an 0-4 start. The improvement fans saw over the course of the season is undeniable and despite another sub-par season in terms of wins and losses, the foundation for success is being built. You can feel the passion from this coaching staff and its players. Norvell and his team broke a four-year losing streak against Miami, played a competitive game in Death Valley against Clemson and could have beaten Florida as well had a few things gone differently. Performance against rivals is extremely important and Norvell took large, positive strides this year. 

It doesn’t excuse the fact a lot of this season felt like pulling teeth. Inexperienced play, some bad coaching decisions, and the worst loss in program history. If Florida State played prevent defense on the final play against Jacksonville State, this team would likely be going to a bowl game. Boy, does that sting and it will continue to sting at least until FSU tees it up against Duquesne and then LSU in New Orleans to start the 2022 season. 

The expectation at Florida State is winning, which Norvell alludes to all the time. If your expectation for this season was a bowl appearance, are you upset your expectations were not met? Or are you pleased those expectations were almost met after there was seemingly no chance after an 0-4 start?

If it is possible to be pleased and displeased at the same time, it would aptly describe this season.