We’re just over three months away from Syracuse Orange football kickoff — which actually seems sort of close. In the weeks still to go until the season starts, we’re counting down by previewing everything you need to know before week one’s game vs. Ohio. Of late, that’s included very early looks at all 12 opponents on this year’s schedule. Last week, we discussed Liberty. This time around, it’s week five foe:
School: Florida State University
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History vs. Syracuse: The Seminoles have been pretty good against Syracuse over the years, as you know. They’re 11-2 overall vs. the Orange, and 6-1 since SU joined the ACC. Syracuse actually won the first meeting, a 37-21 victory in 1966, then the ‘Noles took 10 straight before 2018’s then-upset win for SU. Florida State started a new win streak in 2019, and then the two teams didn’t face one another in the reworked ACC schedule last fall.
Coach: Mike Norvell, second season. Following the failed Willie Taggart era, FSU turned the page with Norvell... and proceeded to go 3-6 in year one under the new coach. Norvell’s had success at plenty of previous stops, however. After playing wide receiver at Central Arkansas from 2001-05, he was a grad assistant there for a year, then served on the Tulsa staff through 2010. Norvell spent a year at Pitt and four seasons at Arizona State, before taking over Memphis. In his first head coaching gig, he went 38-15 with an AAC title, two top 25 rankings and four bowl bids (all losses).
2020 Record: (3-6) (2-6)
Recapping Last Season
Things didn’t get off to a roaring start for FSU, suffering a 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech in the opener, then getting stomped to hell by rival Miami before notching win No. 1 vs. Jacksonville State. They’d follow that up by testing Notre Dame and then knocking off North Carolina. But the Seminoles lost the next three games by double digits before running past Duke, 56-35 in the season finale.
Overall last year, FSU was pretty hot and cold, finishing in the middle of the road as a result. They were 62nd in total offense at 397 yards per game, but 85th in scoring (25.8 points per) while topping 30 points in just three out of nine games. Though they certainly struggled to throw the ball, they ran it rather well, averaging nearly 200 yards per contest on 5.11 yards per carry. QB Jordan Travis was their leading rusher with 559 yards to pair with another 1,056 through the air. Ontaria Wilson was the lone receiver to catch more than 30 passes (he had 31).
Defensively, the ‘Noles didn’t fare too well. They allowed over 456 yards per game (107th in FBS), along with 36 points per. FSU did force some turnovers, collecting 14 on the year. But they struggled to generate a ton of pressure, with just 10 sacks, and tackle for loss averages (5.44 per game) were near the bottom third in the country. Senior Janarius Robinson was the team’s standout on the D-Line with seven tackles for loss. Linebacker Emmett Rice was also a force, with 7.5 stops behind the line and 62 tackles overall (three off the team lead).
2021 Season Outlook
On paper, at least, there’s a shot that with a normal offseason to install Norvell’s systems and all that things are improved. The schedule certainly poses some challenges however, with road trips to UNC, Clemson and Florida, plus an opener vs. Notre Dame and the annual matchup with Miami on the slate as well. Still, there’s an opening for this team to make a bowl. It’s just going to take a pretty impressive effort in the “run of the mill” ACC contests to make up for what may have just been five losses outlined above.
Helping matters will be UCF transfer quarterback McKenzie Milton, who could provide an instant jolt for this stagnant offense. Though he hasn’t suited up in two years, he still has 92 total touchdowns to his name and is exactly the sort of big-play passer FSU’s lacked since Jameis Winston declared for the NFL Draft years back. Last year’s second-leading rusher Jashaun Corbin returns, as do many of 2020’s top pass-catchers. They’ve also made other transfer adds to bolster both the skill positions and offensive line.
Defensively, what should be a pretty good linebacker corps. is back, and they’ve added former Georgia starter Jermaine Johnson as a transfer. Norvell’s mined the transfer market for new players along the line and all over the secondary, too. They have some holes to fill on the back end of this defense after Asante Samuel Jr. left for the NFL and Jaiden Lars-Woodbey transferred out to Boston College.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 2
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Odds of Orange Victory: 28%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
Milton’s already on campus for FSU, and the more time he has under center for the Seminoles, the more confidence he’ll regain by the time this game rolls around in early October. Even at 70% of what he was mobility-wise, he alone can cause some issues for Syracuse’s defense. That ultimately makes the difference, even if the Orange have shown real improvement year over year. A win’s not impossible. It’s just a pretty tough hill to climb against a team that still has plety of talent and is also getting SU on the road — as the first real hostile environment for ‘Cuse all year following a trip to Ohio and three straight home dates.