Fans in Tallahassee are hoping year No. 2 of the Mike Norvell administration will be better than the first.
Florida State finished just 3-6 in 2020 — their third straight losing season. Despite their fewest wins since 1975, the Seminoles seem to be entering spring with a little positive momentum.
FSU finished with a top-25 recruiting class for 2021 and is off to a strong start for 2022, 2023 and 2024. Norvell didn't get a full spring last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he hopes to see that change for 2021. With spring practice set to get underway, here are five things to watch this spring:
1. Quarterback play
It's not unusual for spring, but the quarterback position will be the one to watch for FSU. The headliner at the position is former UCF quarterback and AAC Offensive Player of the Year, McKenzie Milton. Milton led the Knights to back-to-back perfect regular seasons before a season-ending injury late in 2018. Milton didn't take a snap in either 2019 or 2020, but transfers to FSU with nearly 10,000 career yards and 92 total touchdowns.
Milton however, isn't the only quarterback worth paying attention to. The elusive Jordan Travis was a major part of the FSU offense last year and provided a spark upon being inserted into the lineup permanently in game No. 3. Travis has a long way to go as a passer, but his legs make him one of the Seminoles' most dynamic players. Other names to know are Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker. Each made starts at quarterback as true freshmen last season.
2. Other transfers
Milton headlines the group of transfers for FSU, but he isn't the only one expected to make an impact in 2021. On the offensive side of the ball, Auburn transfer and running back D.J. Williams and former Kansas wide receiver Andrew Parchment could be valuable depth pieces for FSU. Two years ago, Parchment led the Jayhawks with 829 receiving yards and seven touchdown grabs, but he will not be available this spring. Williams rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns for Auburn last season.
Where the transfer market could benefit FSU most is on defense. The Seminoles added a pair of former South Carolina Gamecocks in defensive lineman Keir Thomas and defensive back Jammie Robinson. Both are versatile as Thomas can play either end or tackle in coordinator Adam Fuller's defense while Robinson is a hard-hitter with excellent cover skills. Don't be surprised if Robinson reminds FSU fans a lot of the outgoing Hamsah Nasirildeen. To aid an ineffective pass rush will be edge rusher Jermaine Johnson. Johnson tallied four sacks last season for Georgia, which would have been enough to lead the Seminoles. Cornerbacks Jarques McClellion, an Arkansas transfer, and Brandon Moore, a UCF transfer, will compete for time in the secondary.
3. The offensive playmakers
Tamorrion Terry and La'Damian Webb may be gone, but there's still a lot of talent on the FSU offense. As freshmen last season, Lawrance Toafili and Ja'Khi Douglas emerged as playmakers for FSU and should take on even bigger roles this season. Wide receiver Ontaria Wilson and tight end Cam McDonald were reliable targets for FSU last season, but FSU will be hoping others such as Jordan Young and Bryan Robinson emerge.
At the wide receiver position, FSU will be bringing in two early enrollees in Joshua Burrell and Malik McClain. McClain is built in a mold similar to Terry while Burrell has a ton of potential. Other returning names to know at the offensive skill positions include running back Jashaun Corbin and wide receiver Keyshawn Helton. The aforementioned Williams will have a chance to carve out a role during the spring.
4. The trenches
How FSU looks up front on both sides of the ball will be worth paying attention to. Last season, the defensive line was supposed to be a strength but was instead one of the most underachieving groups in the country. Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden and Janarius Robinson are all gone, which should mean more opportunity for the likes of Johnson, Thomas, Robert Cooper, Josh Griffis, Quashon Fuller, Fabian Lobett, and Derrick McLendon. FSU ranked just 119th in the country in sacks per game last season.
Of the two units that play in the trenches, the offensive line may have been the better of the two in 2020. While hardly a strength, FSU made strides under position coach Alex Atkins. FIU transfer Devontay Love-Taylor was a welcomed addition for FSU. The Seminoles also have a lot of bodies looking to prove themselves this season up front. Worth paying attention to are Dontae Lucas, Brady Scott, Baveon Johnson, Darius Washington, Maurice Smith, Zane Herring and Jalen Goss. The Seminoles should have good competition, which hopefully translates to a serviceable — if not good — product on the field.
5. Personnel and scheme
Obviously, how FSU lines up during the spring may not be an indicator of things to come, but the way Norvell and staff use their personnel will be interesting to watch. On offense, FSU has good depth in the backfield, some at receiver but not as much at tight end. With that being the case, we may see guys like McDonald or a running back split out in the slot. With mobile quarterbacks like Travis and Milton, that could also open up the zone-read and run-pass option.
Defensively, the depth is in the secondary. With that being the case, FSU's base personnel will likely include five defensive backs. It will be interesting to see how versatile players such as Brendan Gant, Travis Jay and Jammie Robinson are used. The same will be true when it comes to linebackers like Johnson and Amari Gainer, who do good work rushing the passer.
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.