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Sizing up the Seminoles: How accurate is preseason forecast?

Florida State is viewed as a middle-of-the-pack ACC team in 2021. There is a clearly-defined top team in Clemson, with North Carolina and Miami also in the top 10 or top 15. From there? Plenty of question marks with teams like NC State, Boston College, Louisville, Wake Forest and Florida State bunched in a middle tier inside the division. One example: The Seminoles are viewed as a 6-6 team and set to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division by Athlon.

Early projections have FSU as the No. 8 team in the ACC. Agree or disagree?

Jerry: We’re projecting right? We won’t really know enough about the Florida State football team to know if it will end up the No. 1, No. 8 or No. 15 team in the ACC until they play someone or more accurately play several teams.

So today, 50-plus days before FSU tees it up against Notre Dame, my projection is the Seminoles will finish better than eighth. What has changed that I think this 3-6 team will win six or more games and finish in the upper half of the ACC?

Attitude. How many times over the past two years did you think FSU could win this game with better effort, more pursuit, better discipline? Mike Norvell has cleared the decks of the Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart recruits who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after their coaches left. The players who are here now, competing for starting jobs, are those who have chosen to play for Norvell and fit what his staff demands.

I believe an improved attitude will translate into better play and another three wins, which would put FSU in the top 7 or better. I’m not a believer in “leopards changing their spots” when it comes to effort, discipline attitude and teamwork. I believe you have to change the leopards and that’s exactly what FSU has done over two recruiting cycles thanks in large part to the transfer portal.

The revolving door has provided a breath of fresh air for many and a swift boot in the ass to all. With new blood comes new hope and energy and most importantly, competition. As many as 11 of the 22 in my projected starting lineup could be transfers, guys who have come to improve their stock in the draft, including:

Quarterback: McKenzie Milton (Central Florida) or Jordan Travis (Louisville).

Running back: Jashaun Corbin (Texas A&M).

Offensive line: Devontay Love-Taylor (Florida International) 

Offensive line: Dillon Gibbons (Notre Dame).

Tight end: Jordan Wilson (UCLA), Wyatt Rector (Western Michigan)

Wide Receiver: Andrew Parchment (Kansas)

Defensive end: Jermaine Johnson (Georgia)

Defensive end: Keir Thomas (South Carolina) will push for playing time

Defensive tackle: Fabien Lovett (Mississippi)

Defensive back: Jammie Robinson (South Carolina)

Defensive back: Brandon Moore (UCF) will also push for playing time

There are other transfers pushing for starting time including defensive end Jarrett Jackson (Louisville), defensive backs Meiko Dotson (FAU), Jarrian Jones (Miss State), Jarques McClellion (Arkansas), Caleb Blake (Colorado St.), linebacker Cortez Andrews (Maryland) and running back D.J. Williams (Auburn).

Attitudes breed attitudes, good or bad and I believe guys like Corbin, Love-Taylor, Lovett, Travis and Milton and Johnson and Robinson have transferred with infectious attitudes.

It will take more than an improved attitude to beat Clemson, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Miami and Boston College. They are the best five teams in the ACC and all are on FSU’s schedule, three on the road.

Even with the portal, FSU is not yet back to dynasty level talent but with an improved attitude this team can beat two of those top five as well as NC State and Louisville. Those seven contests will determine if FSU is better than No. 8 and attitude could be the difference.

Pat: This kind of off-season conversation is fun. They are part-educated opinion, part-soothsayer and part-malarkey, and depending on the source you may get more of one part than you do the others. What we do know is that the eighth-place team in the ACC last season, Virginia Tech, had a 5-5 conference record and 5-6 record overall. In 2019 the 8th-best overall record in the ACC, Miami, went .500 in conference play and 6-7 overall. Using that as our baseline I think a predicted 8th-place finish is more than fair and realistic for FSU and would validate that Mike Norvell has the program heading in the right direction.

My expectation for the 2021 Seminoles is that they will finish anywhere from 5-7 to 7-5. Anything less than five wins would be a huge disappointment and anything above seven would mean this team had several bounces of the ball go its way. Since the end of spring practice, myself and others who follow the team said getting to a bowl, going 6-6, would be outstanding for a team that only had two FBS wins last season. One was big, beating a highly-ranked UNC team that gave fans hope and a reason to be optimistic about the future but I am not sure how much we learned in a win against a Duke team that was forced to travel to Tallahassee and who clearly had checked out before arrival. I say all that to say this: Going 6-6 and getting to a bowl would show drastic improvement from one year to the next.

FSU will be better than it was last year. It has to be. This still is a very young team and will benefit from 15 spring practice opportunities and a full summer off-season workout program. We also know they have added some talented players to the roster through the transfer portal that quite frankly in most cases are upgrades over who would have been slated as starters otherwise.

But for FSU to reach six wins it will need improved production in the passing game. McKenzie Milton should be a help in this area if he returns to any resemblance of the player he was at UCF. The offensive line, which made huge strides last year in the run game, still must prove that it can protect the passer, especially Milton, who is more limited in his mobility than Jordan Travis. In the spring FSU seemed to have just as much trouble protecting the passer as it did last season. That has to improve. And lets be honest: Travis was a big reason FSU’s numbers in the run game were as good as they were. He made defenses account for an extra ball carrier in the run game and often times picked up huge chunks of yards with his feet when pass protection broke down. Can FSU’s offense find consistency in the run game without the quarterback being the main ball carrier? And finally can FSU find a reliable and dependable playmaker at wide receiver or two players who give them one or the other. They had neither last season. FSU must show improvement in all of these areas offensively if this team wants to start climbing its way back up the ACC ladder.

Defensively, FSU just needs to be a much better team than it was a year ago. They just weren’t very good last season in any area. There are questions about its ability to rush the passer but the group should be helped by Jermaine Johnson, who looked like the real deal in the spring and who could force teams to double-team him in pass protection, which would free up other pass rushers. There are huge questions at linebacker both from a talent, production and depth standpoint but moving to a two-linebacker system may help defensive coordinator Adam Fuller maximize the capabilities of who he has to work with. The secondary should benefit from the additions of transfers Brandon Moore and Jammie Robinson. However, they will need some of the returning players from the defensive backfield to start fulfilling some of their outstanding potential. FSU’s defense simply must stop quarterbacks from having season-best performances against them. Secondary coach Marcus Woodson said prior to last season that this was the most talented group, most of whom are returning for 2021, he had ever worked with and that talent needs to be on full display on Saturdays for FSU to show the kind of improvement that will lead to a season that ends with a bowl.

The schedule, who, when and where will obviously play a factor in how FSU’s season plays out. FSU has just about guaranteed itself two wins with Jacksonville State and UMass on the schedule. Facing Notre Dame in the opener probably enhances FSU’s chance of upsetting an Irish team that will be starting a new quarterback and replacing several players on both sides of the ball who are now in the NFL. Clemson will be very good but will the Tigers be as dominant as they have been without Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne? Probably not but probably still miles ahead of FSU who is still in the early days of Norvell’s tenure. Will UNC be as good as last year? Quarterback Sam Howell is back but the Tar Heels must replace four skill players on offense who are now in the NFL. Boston College looks to be an improving program under Jeff Hafley who was one of the few first-year Power-5 head coaches last season to have a winning record. Is NC State going to find the consistency or improve off an 8-win last year or slide back to the middle of the pack? I will save you from working my way through the entirety of the schedule, but the point here is the direction FSU’s season goes in this fall will be partially impacted by the direction its opponents are going in 2021.

The shelf life of any one football team is exactly 365 days. There will be surprises in the ACC on both sides of the win-loss equation this season and lots of us will be right and wrong all at the same time but it makes for an enthusiastic but subjective conversation. Every fan has an opinion and their own expectations for this team and we tend to focus on its positive attribute during the summer and preseason because we haven’t seen them lineup against an opponent yet. That being said, I agree that an 8th-place finish is a fair prediction and that would mean FSU would finish somewhere between 5-7 and 7-5. Getting to a bowl should be the goal for FSU this season and six wins or more would show drastic improvement for one of the most storied programs in college football in Norvell’s second-year.

Bob: Preseason expectations are fun summer discussion but are inherently flawed, especially when weighing in the challenges FSU faced in 2020 — a first-year staff, shortened spring practice and a condensed nine-game schedule. Considerable weight in forecasting FSU’s improvement is put on the impact of transfers, especially QB McKenzie Milton and DE Jermaine Johnson and a trio in the secondary.

For the Seminoles to improve from 3-6 to 6-6, they must see progress in these four areas: QB play, pass protection, pass rush and run defense. This presumes the pass rush will make the secondary, where the defense has the most talent and depth, a better group. Milton should bring more consistency at quarterback, while Jordan Travis is a playmaker who could throw, run or catch. A healthy Devontay Love-Taylor and Dillan Gibbons give FSU veterans on the line, while young linemen like Robert Scott, Maurice Smith and Darius Washington could take a step forward. FSU has lacked a pass rush the last two years, since Brian Burns departed for the NFL, but Johnson represents a threat to apply pressure off the edge. The run defense was one of the worst in Power 5 and, well, it can’t get much worse. There are big questions here but FSU has depth at defensive tackle and linebacker Emmett Rice’s return helps.

If you think FSU is better in at least three of those four areas, call it cautious optimism, then a 5-7, 6-6 or maybe even a 7-5 record is realistic. But it would also require the Seminoles to win matchups against the likes of middle-tier teams like NC State, Boston College, Louisville and Wake Forest. Those 50-50 games represent the opportunity for the Seminoles to take a step forward in year 2 under coach Mike Norvell.