Despite all of the doubts around the 2020 college football season and the schedule as it’s currently written, we’ve been running through the season week by week to preview all of the Syracuse Orange’s opponents this fall.
Last time out, we visited with NC State and tried to avoid as much discussion of last year’s atrocity as possible. This week, we’re discussing the Florida State Seminoles’ return to the Dome. When we last saw FSU in Syracuse, the Orange were celebrating a 30-7 upset and Dino Babers was getting you hyped to run through a brick wall after the game. Two years later, the ‘Noles have a new coach and could be back on track as a program.
It’s our second-to-last opponent preview of the summer, so get excited:
Florida State Seminoles
School: Florida State
#BRAND Slogan(s): #OneTribe
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “More like Mike NOLEvell” OR “Future Home of QB Coach Jameis Winston”
Recommended Blog: Tomahawk Nation
Coach: Mike Norvell, first season
The Texas native jumped right into coaching following a four-year career as a wide receiver at Central Arkansas. He started as a grad assistant at UCA in 2006, then moved on to Tulsa from 2007-2010, where he was part of some high-powered Golden Hurricane offenses. Norvell was Co-OC at Pitt by 2011, then an OC/QB coach at Arizona State from 2012-15 under Todd Graham. That experience earned him the Memphis head coaching gig in 2016.
Despite elevated expectations there following Justin Fuente’s tenure, Norvell put in impressive work with the Tigers, going 38-15 over four seasons. That included two seasons with 10 or more wins, three division titles, an AAC championship and a trip to the Cotton Bowl last year. All of that was good enough to earn him the FSU job following Willie Taggart’s dismissal.
2019 Record: (6-7) (4-4)
Recapping Last Season:
Things looked rough from the start last year, as FSU gave up two different 18-point leads in a season-opening loss to Boise State, then needed overtime to beat UL-Monroe 45-44 in week two. A 31-24 loss to Virginia created panic that only briefly subsided following two wins over Louisville and NC State... but those were followed up by a blowout loss to Clemson and then a 22-20 defeat at Wake Forest. The ‘Noles went 3-2 over the final five games to make the Sun Bowl, where they lost by six to Arizona State.
Compared to the previous season, Florida State’s offense did improve in 2019. They finished 59th in yards per game, though 73rd in points per game (27.9). FSU’s passing game was actually a top-40 unit while picking up nearly 268 yards per game through the air. Somehow, the Seminoles were 93rd in rushing yards per game despite having Cam Akers. Putting a poor offensive line (48 sacks allowed) on the field will do that.
Defensively, pace caused some issues for the defense, as one might guess. FSU was 90th in yards allowed per game, but also 66th in points per game allowed (27.8). The major saving grace for the ‘Noles was that the red zone defense was actually pretty good at keeping opponents out of the red zone (just a 46.9% touchdown percentage allowed). They were also a decent pass-rushing team with 32 sacks on the year, and forced 18 turnovers on the year. Not bad, and certainly makes it a bit easier to give up a lot of yards (something we’re familiar with).
2020 Season Outlook:
The non-conference schedule gets a little bit tougher, as they’ll go to Boise State this time around, along with a season-opener vs. West Virginia in Atlanta and the finale at home vs. rival Florida. If that wasn’t enough to test Norvell in his first year in Tallahassee, they get a pretty rough stretch from October 10 to November 7 featuring Clemson, Wake Forest, Louisville, Pitt and Miami. One saving grace there is that three of those five are at home.
James Blackman could benefit from no spring ball, as he’s the most experienced quarterback on the roster and the one most likely to grab the starting role right now despite the scheme change. What should make his job harder is the fact the fact that Akers is gone, though there’s experience in his place including Texas A&M transfer Jashaun Corbin. There’s also the matter of the line, which has struggled for a few years now and returns some experience this season — which may not be a good thing. There’s also a lot of “new,” but David Hale still ranks FSU the 12th-best O-line.
Where that group could get bailed out a bit is from the receiver position. The Seminoles return their top two targets from 2019, in Tamorrion Terry (60 catches/1,118 yards/9 touchdowns) and D.J. Matthews (36 catches/335 yards/3 TDs). Players like Keyshawn Helton and tight end Camren McDonald also have potential. Even a slightly better line could mean a lot better production at wideout.
On the defensive side, Florida State switches to a 4-3 scheme and that should directly benefit the personnel they have returning. The top four defensive linemen from last year all return, and Marvin Wilson in particular should be an absolute force at tackle after posting 8.5 tackles for loss (five sacks) last year. FSU also brings back eight of last year’s top-10 tacklers, including the top three linebackers. Nearly every top DB is back too, and that’s with or without Hamsah Nasirildeen, who will be another top-flight player at safety once healthy.
Syracuse Game Date: Thursday, November 19
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 20 percent
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
There are O-line questions, yes. But otherwise, this is a team that looks likely to improve quite a bit in 2020 and should have the coaching staff change to help get them there. Yes, SU’s own offensive line should be much improved this fall, yet I don’t see them being able to hold up against this defense. If the Seminoles are competing for more than eight wins by this point in the season, it’ll likely be due to the D and what should be a very formidable pass rush. With both teams on short rest, this gets decided by who has better athletes. Sorry, but that’s clearly FSU.