Mike Norvell didn’t get off to the best of starts in Tallahassee.
The head coach went 3-6 in his first season with Florida State and just 2-6 in ACC play with the high point coming in a 31-28 homes win over a North Carolina team that was ranked No. 5 at the time.
The low point was having three of their final four games canceled, with the first coming just an hour before a scheduled noon kick against Clemson. A cancellation that left a sour taste in Dabo Swinney’s mouth.
With the Seminoles set to visit Death Valley on October 30, it will be interesting to see how Swinney’s team responds to the way the situation played out. Many are expecting a “very motivated” effort from the Tigers. Read into that what you will.
So, what can we expect from the Seminoles in 2021? For starters, former UCF standout quarterback McKenzie Milton transferred in with a promise of being able to compete for the starting role.
Whether Milton can beat out last season’s starter Jordan Travis will depend on how healthy he is and if he is completely back from a horrific leg injury suffered in 2019. Either way, Travis is going to see the field, After all, he was the teams leading rusher in 2020. James Blackmon transferred out to Arkansas State.
Whoever is throwing the passes, he will have some weapons to work with. Leading receiver Ontaria Wilson is back after catching 31 passes and speedster Keyshawn Helton should become a regular part of the passing game.
Camren McDonald is a threat at tight end and Kansas transfer Andrew Parchment will be a factor too. However, let’s not forget this was one of the worst passing offenses in the nation last year.
The running game gets Jashaun Corbin back who led all running backs with 401 yards and five touchdowns. Second-best back La’Damian Webb transferred to Troy, but Auburn transfer DJ Williams should offset that loss.
Where the Seminoles run into issues, though, is along the offensive line. It was a problem throughout the tail end of the Jimbo Fisher era, persisted through the Willie Taggert era, and is still an issue today.
The rushing attack just hasn’t been what it could be and there have been to many plays made behind the line of scrimmage. Not to mention the beatings some of the quarterbacks have taken. For Norvell’s team it will start and stop with how much improvement has been made in this area.
On the defensive side of the ball, Norvell recently said at the ACC Kickoff that they want to be better at getting after the quarterback. Do that and it helps the rest of the defense improve.
They were dead last in the ACC in sacks in 2020, close to last in total defense, and the Seminoles allowed 36 points per game. They were putrid when it came to third-down stops too and there were a ton of mental mistakes. But as Norvell pointed out, it all starts with getting more pressure on the quarterback.
Keir Thomas, a defensive tackle transfer from South Carolina, should provide immediate help. Robert Cooper returns at tackle as well, but where they really need help is on the outside. Defensive end Derrick McLendon led the team in TFL last season, but only had 2.5.
Florida State gets back its top three linebackers but one of those is second-leading tackler Emmett Rice, who hurt his leg this spring and is questionable going into the fall. Amari Gainer, who led the team with 65 tackles is back and Stephen Dix is a physical presence in the middle.
That secondary needs to be better as well. Again, it didn’t get any help from the pass rush and the Seminoles only had eight interceptions last year. South Carolina’s Jammie Robinson transferred in at safety to help offset major secondary losses to the transfer portal.
Vegas has set Florida State’s win total at 6.5. With home games against Syracuse, UMass and Jacksonville State, the Seminoles should have no issue matching their three wins from last season. However, outside of a road trip to Wake Forest, it’s real hard to find enough guaranteed wins on the schedule to say they can get to six wins.
The open at home against Notre Dame and finish on the road at Florida. There’s also the road trip to Clemson, along with road trips to North Carolina and Boston College. Other teams they get at home are Louisville, NC State and Miami.