Florida State probably won’t have to wait until December to learn its fate regarding the College Football Playoff.
The eighth-ranked Seminoles, entering their most anticipated campaign in nearly a decade, should have a solid handle on their outlook after the first month of the season.
Coach Mike Norvell’s team opens against No. 5 LSU in Orlando on Sept. 3, a prime-time showcase featuring two championship contenders, and then plays at ninth-ranked Clemson three weeks later. Beat both Tigers and FSU would be in position to return to the CFP for the first time since 2014.
The Seminoles, however, are expected to be underdogs in each game. LSU opened as 2 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. And Clemson, meanwhile, has won seven consecutive meetings between the Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweights.
No one should be surprised to see Norvell and the ’Noles celebrating an ACC title in four months and punching their ticket to the CFP. After all, this team returns 15 starters — nearly 90% of its playmakers from last season — including several stars.
Quarterback Jordan Travis, All-ACC edge rusher Jared Verse, receiver Johnny Wilson and defensive lineman Fabian Lovett stuck around for a chance to end their college careers with a championship, maybe two.
“I’m glad all those boys decided to come back,” linebacker Kalen DeLoach said. “They felt like what we had here, we need to leave our legacy, we need to leave our mark. They felt like we weren’t done yet.”
Adding more to Norvell’s team, he landed Michigan State standout receiver Keon Coleman, Virginia shutdown cornerback Fentrell Cypress, versatile South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell and Western Michigan defensive lineman Braden Fiske in the transfer portal. The transfer class ranked sixth in college football, according to 247sports.com.
“I think the key to success in college football is evaluation,” Novell said. “Nobody’s going to hit 100%. We surely don’t. But I take a great deal of pride in not only finding the right jerseys that are coming in, but the men behind the jersey.
“The ones that work, they develop, they push, they care about who they get to do it with. The biggest, strongest, fastest guys that are like that, man, that’s what we want. I think we’ve been able to do that at a high level.”
Portal prowess has been the main catalyst in Norvell’s rebuild in Tallahassee. With former transfers Travis, Verse, Wilson and Lovett leading the way, the Seminoles went 10-3 last season despite losing conference games in October to Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Clemson. They closed the year on a six-game winning streak, the sixth longest in Division I football.
Now, they enter the season with momentum, and more importantly, confidence that they’ll be in the mix at the end of September and when the CFP committee decides the four playoff teams in December.
“There’s no pressure ever,” Travis said. “We’re focused on LSU and that’s all we’re focused on right now. This football team does a good job just taking it day by day, week by week and game by game. … I think Coach Norvell does a good job of keeping our heads straight and keep the main thing the main thing.”
While Florida State’s toughest games appear to be in September, there are other potential pitfalls down the road. The Seminoles play at Wake Forest in late October. The Demon Deacons have won three in a row in the series.
They also play at Pitt the following week and then host rival Miami before closing the regular season at rebuilding Florida. None of those are gimmes, but they’re ones the Seminoles probably have to win to reach their goals in 2023.
Travis’ health has to be FSU’s biggest worry. He added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, but the 6-foot-1, 212-pound senior isn’t built to endure constant punishment. Also troubling: The Seminoles don’t have much experience behind him between junior Tate Rodemaker and freshmen AJ Duffy and Brock Glenn.
FSU’s projected win total opened at 9 1/2 games, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Seminoles also have the second-best odds (behind Clemson) to win the ACC and are plus-380 to make the playoff.