The first two years of the Mike Norvell era at Florida State have hardly been a glowing success.
Norvell will enter his third season with just an 8-13 overall record. Among those 13 defeats is the program’s only loss ever to an FCS opponent.
Despite the rough couple of seasons under Norvell and four straight losing campaigns overall, Tallahassee is not riddled with pessimism. According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, FSU currently owns a top-15 recruiting class for 2022.
For a program with the football pedigree of FSU, that is not overly impressive. As the Seminoles have learned in recent years however, developing talent is as important as acquiring it.
For Norvell and staff, that is an area where they have excelled — particularly when it comes to the transfer portal. Wins will certainly need to come for the Norvell tenure to last. For now however, transfer portal success is the biggest selling point.
FSU at it Again
Florida State’s 2021 season ended a little more than a month ago, but the staff has wasted little time adding pieces from the portal. The latest was former UCF linebacker and second-team All-American Athletic Conference performer Tatum Bethune.
On Tuesday night, Bethune became the seventh transfer to commit to FSU this offseason. The Seminoles are not only adding new faces, but they are doing so at positions of need.
Other positions of need addressed include the offensive line and wide receiver. Kayden Lyles (Wisconsin) and Bless Harris (Lamar) are expected to compete for immediate playing time up front. Out wide, Mycah Pittman (Oregon), Johnny Wilson (Arizona State) and Deuce Spann (Illinois) bring speed and versatility.
A Proven Track Record
Whether or not Norvell can return FSU to a championship level remains to be seen. One thing that he and his staff have been able to do is maximize transfer talent. Most of FSU’s production on both sides of the ball last season came from players who began their collegiate careers somewhere else.
There was no better example of that than defensive end Jermaine Johnson II. After recording just four sacks at Georgia in 2020, Johnson led the ACC with 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss en route to being named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
When it came to transfer defensive ends, Johnson wasn’t the only FSU player to excel. Keir Thomas, a South Carolina transfer, was named third-team All-ACC after recording 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Thomas ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in both categories.
On a visit last month, highly-touted former Albany defensive end Jared Verse spoke to Johnson and Thomas about their FSU experiences. Verse told DFNS that he will make a decision on where to transfer very soon.
On the interior, Mississippi State transfer Fabien Lovett has also played well up front for the Seminoles. The other All-ACC transfer on defense however, came from the secondary.
Jammie Robinson, also a transfer from South Carolina, was named to the ACC’s first team this past season. Robinson led the Seminoles in total tackles (85), interceptions (four) and forced fumbles (two).
Offensively, FSU was a different team in 2021 when Jordan Travis was behind center. Travis, a Louisville transfer, came to Tallahassee during Willie Taggart’s tenure as head coach. Travis however, wasn’t used until after Taggart was fired in November 2019 and only as a situational player prior to Week 3 of the 2020 season.
Known for his athleticism, Travis holds the FSU quarterback records for rushing yards in a career and a single season. Travis has also improved immensely as a passer. He finished last season with a 63% completion rate, nearly eight yards per pass attempt and 15 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions.
While FSU was 5-4 in Travis’ nine starts, it was Texas A&M transfer Jashaun Corbin who powered the ground game. Corbin was named third-team All-ACC after rushing for a team-high 887 yards and ranking second in the ACC behind only teammate Treshaun Ward at 6.2 yards per carry.
At the pass-catching position, tight end and UCLA transfer Jordan Wilson emerged as a reliable target as the season went on. Wide receiver Andrew Parchment didn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did at Kansas in 2019, but he did tie for the team lead with 24 receptions. That included a 24-yard catch on 4th-and-14 against Miami that set up the winning score.
The FSU offensive line continued to have its issues, but did show improvement. Devontay Love-Taylor and Dillan Gibbons were named All-ACC honorable mention. Unsurprisingly, both are transfers.
Love-Taylor began his career at Florida International. Gibbons made a tremendous impact on and off the field after being used largely as a reserve at Notre Dame.
With the rise of Name, Image and Likeness and the transfer portal, the landscape of college football has changed. Perhaps utilizing the portal to acquire high-end talent could be the niche that FSU needs to get back to competing for ACC titles and New Year’s Six bowls.
Recruiting at the high school level is still important, but it is no longer a certainty that a starting lineup will be reflected in high school recruiting classes from two or three years prior. Take the starting offense and defense for FSU’s regular-season finale against Florida, for example. Of the 22 players to make the start for the Seminoles, only half had been at FSU for more than two seasons and 10 began their college careers somewhere else.
In modern college football, coaching staffs have to be creative when it comes to recruiting. Beginning in the 1990s, Bill Snyder turned Kansas State from a laughingstock to a perennial top-15 program by putting a heavy focus on junior college prospects. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, perhaps the transfer portal could be Norvell’s primary tool for making Florida State a winner once again.