Florida State suffered through a fourth straight losing season, but there was significant progress made along the way. After an 0-4 start, the Seminoles won five of seven and had a chance for a bowl bid before coming up short to rival Florida in the season finale.
Despite the 5-7 finish, optimism is as high as it has been during head coach Mike Norvell’s tenure. The Seminoles look to make further progress in 2022, but first, let’s take a look back on 2021:
Offensive MVP: Jordan Travis, QB
It was clear that Florida State was a different team with Travis behind center. When Travis started for FSU this past season, the Seminoles were 5-3 as opposed to 0-4 with McKenzie Milton behind center. Travis has always been an excellent runner, but made further strides as a passer. Travis finished with 22 total touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also led game-winning drives in victories over Syracuse and Miami.
Defensive MVP: Jermaine Johnson II, DE
A Georgia transfer, Johnson will spend just one season in Tallahassee, but it will be a memorable one. Johnson was named an All-American and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss. Johnson tallied 70 total tackles, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown.
Best Freshman: Omarion Cooper, CB
Cooper didn't start to see action until the middle parts of the season, but once he got reps, he made the most of them. By season's end, Cooper was one of the best cover men for FSU. Cooper finished second on the team with two interceptions and tied for the team lead with four pass breakups.
Best Play of the Season: Travis finds Parchment on fourth-and-14
Riding a four-game losing streak to rival Miami, Florida State was one play away from watching that streak run to five in mid-November. From the Miami 25-yard-line, the Seminoles trailed 28-23 and faced fourth-and-14. With time to throw, Jordan Travis was able to deliver a strike to Parchment for 24 yards. The play ended just inches from the goal line. Two plays later, Travis was able to sneak in for the winning touchdown with 26 seconds remaining as the Seminoles pulled the 31-28 upset.
Best Performance (Player): Johnson vs. Miami
Johnson will face Miami just once in his FSU career, but it was a performance for the ages. In the 31-28 victory, Johnson tallied seven tackles, five for a loss, three sacks, and a forced fumble. Johnson's final tackle of the night stopped Miami tight end Will Mallory shy of a first down and allowed for FSU's offense to drive the length of the field for victory.
Best Performance (Team): Road Win at North Carolina
Florida State was a 17.5-point underdog as it made its way to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina on Oct. 9. The Tar Heels raced to a 10-0 lead, but after that, it was all FSU. Travis accounted for five total touchdowns and led an FSU rushing attack that finished with 238 yards on the ground. The defense bent but didn't break as FSU scored its first road win of the season, 35-25.
Defining Moment: Ryan Fitzgerald's game-winner vs. Syracuse
After an 0-4 start, Florida State began the month of October desperate for a victory. Despite struggling for much of the second half against Syracuse on Oct. 2, the FSU defense came up with a big stop and allowed the offense to mount a winning march. With the score tied 30-30, Travis broke off runs of 33 and 25 yards on the final drive to set up Fitzgerald's game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired. The win began a 5-2 stretch for FSU after a disappointing start. From there on, the Seminoles were a different football team.
Biggest Surprise: Treshaun Ward, RB
A former walk-on who got just two carries in 2020, Ward became a key piece to the FSU offense in 2021. Ward finished with 700 yards from scrimmage for the season and six total touchdowns. Ward rushed for 515 of those yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry — good for third in the ACC.
Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Jacksonville State
After a hard-fought loss to Notre Dame in overtime to open the season, FSU appeared to have a gimme in Week 2 as Jacksonville State came to Tallahassee. The Seminoles had been 26-0 against FCS opponents, but allowed the Gamecocks to put together back-to-back touchdown drives, totaling 180 yards, over the final five minutes to steal the victory. On the game's final play, Jacksonville State’s Zerrick Cooper hit Damond Philyaw-Johnson for the 59-yard touchdown for a 20-17 upset of the Seminoles.
Senior That Will Be Missed in 2022: Keir Thomas, DE
This is another category where Johnson could have been the selection, but he wasn’t the only defensive end transfer to make an impact this season. Thomas, a South Carolina transfer, quietly had a stellar year on the opposite side and brought a work ethic that coaches raved about. Thomas was a quiet leader and finished the year with 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
Player to Watch in 2022: Malik McClain, WR
Largely a situational player as a true freshman, McClain may be one offseason away from becoming a real force in the ACC. At 6-foot-4, McClain is a big receiver who can really run and high-point the ball. After recording 190 yards receiving and two touchdowns this past season, McClain will benefit from a normal offseason and some continuity at the quarterback position.
Offseason Storyline: Compiling a roster
Between recruiting and the transfer portal, Florida State could have room for somewhere between 35 and 40 scholarships. The Seminoles enter the early signing period with 16 commitments and a top-10 class. FSU was very active in the transfer portal last season adding key pieces such as Johnson, Thomas, Jammie Robinson, Dillan Gibbons, Parchment, and Milton. Look for that to be the case again.
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.