This isn’t 1993. Or even 2014.
Notre Dame and Florida State aren’t colliding as two nationally ranked teams with major bowl game aspirations. The Irish are rolling out double-digit win campaigns on a yearly basis and have made two College Football Playoff appearances in the last three seasons. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have endured four straight years with at least six losses.
But, this may not be 2018 or 2020 either – when Notre Dame had its way with listless Florida State teams. The Seminoles were proactive in trying to find fixes and jump-starts after a 3-6 season in Mike Norvell’s first year as head coach.
Here’s a look at three things to know about Florida State heading into Norvell’s second season.
1. Portal Plucking
How does a coach try to jump-start a team that went 3-6 in his first year, just signed the No. 30-ranked recruiting class and played several young players?
Go shopping in the transfer portal and come back with a cartful of additions. Nine of them, to be exact. Norvell hopes they add the experience and impact to help distance his program from its ill-fated 2020 season. Most of them have intriguing backgrounds.
There’s former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, who threw for 6,700 yards and 62 touchdowns while averaging 9.8 yards per attempt from 2017-18 before a ghastly knee injury sidelined him the next two seasons. He’s competing to start. There’s former Notre Dame guard Dillan Gibbons, a graduate transfer who couldn’t quite crack the starting five on the Irish’s talented offensive line but is the Seminoles’ No. 1 left guard.
Elsewhere, the highest-impact portal traveled could be former Georgia defensive end Jermaine Johnson, who had five sacks in seven games as a part-time player in 2020. Florida State had 10 as a team in nine games. Kansas graduate transfer wide receiver Andrew Parchment hauled in 89 passes for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns the last two seasons — better career numbers than any Seminoles receiver.
A recruiting class ranked outside the top 25 typically doesn’t provide much first-year help. Most of the highly rated players from Florida State’s 2017 (No. 5 ranking) and 2018 (No. 10) hauls are in the NFL or didn’t deliver upon their ranking.
That all screams limited ceiling. Can the transfer additions jell quickly enough and make the impact needed for Florida State to take a sizable leap this year?
2. Offensive Line Woes
No Florida State position group has drawn more public ire than the offensive line since the program’s 2017 descent. The Seminoles are on their fourth position coach at that spot since 2017. Recruiting results have been poor. On the field, it has been a pronounced liability. Florida State has ranked 112th, 125th, 112th and 96th in sacks allowed per game the last four years.
There is a little hope in 2021, though. Gibbons adds experience, and former Florida International tackle Devontay Love-Taylor arrived as a graduate transfer last year but suffered a season-ending knee injury Nov. 7. He returned as a “super senior” using the NCAA’s COVID-19 blanket waiver. Center Maurice Smith made a few Freshman All-America teams last year. Right tackle Robert Scott also started as a freshman and improved over the course of the year.
It looks like enough for the unit to pick itself up off the mat, and maybe throw a few punches. Florida State has some weapons that should excel with better blocking. That starts with running back Jashaun Corbin, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry last year despite shoddy offensive line play and posted the same clip in two seasons at Texas A&M.
3. A Helping Hand
It will be hard to find a more heartwarming use of college athletes’ new name, image and likeness opportunities than Gibbons’ first venture into it.
The former Irish offensive lineman and current Seminole started a GoFundMe to raise money for friend Timothy Donovan to attend this year’s Notre Dame-Florida State game. Donovan, who graduated high school this year, was born with a condition called VACTERL and has had more than 50 surgeries in his life.
He and Gibbons both attended Notre Dame’s “Snowball game” in 2008 versus Syracuse and credit it as the moment that hooked them on college football. They did not know each other at the time. Nine years later, after Gibbons’ first game at Notre Dame, they met when Gibbons gave Donovan his signed gloves.
The GoFundMe has raised more than $50,000 as of mid-August — and word of it reached Notre Dame and Florida State fans. Donovan and his parents have booked their trip and bought tickets to see the game.
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