After four straight losing seasons, only a Cheez-It Bowl victory over Oklahoma separates Florida State from its first 10-win season since 2016. The Seminoles finished strong in 2021 and came back even stronger in '22, closing the regular season on a five-game winning streak.
As with any strong season for a team came strong performances from individuals. Here's a look at the players who stood out in Mike Norvell's third season as head coach:
Offensive MVP: Jordan Travis, QB
When Travis finally got the see the field at FSU in 2019, he was seen as a package or gimmick quarterback. Few would have ever guessed that he would go on to have the best season for an FSU signal-caller since Jameis Winston's 2013 Heisman Trophy campaign. Travis passed, rushed, and caught a total of 30 touchdowns in 2022, finishing with more than 3,100 total yards. As he did last season against Miami, Travis capped the regular season by leading a game-winning drive to beat rival Florida.
Defensive MVP: Jared Verse, DE
This one was a little tougher to decide, but the nod goes to the UAlbany transfer up front. In his first — and maybe only — season in Tallahassee, Verse ranked third in the ACC with 7.5 sacks and second in tackles for a loss with 14.5 entering the bowl games. Verse excelled as a pass rusher, but he's also been solid in run support, tallying 41 total tackles. In addition to his prowess on the defensive side of the ball, Verse also blocked a field goal, which proved consequential in a 24-23 win over LSU on Labor Day weekend.
Best Freshman: Patrick Payton, DE
The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Payton has brought speed off the edge and is an integral part of an FSU pass rush that ranks in the top 25 nationally with 34 total sacks. A South Florida native, Payton has 29 total tackles, five for a loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. What's scary is Payton still has a lot of muscle to add to fill out his imposing 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame.
Best Play of the Season: Brown's Blocked PAT Preserves Win Over LSU
It was hard to not pick Jordan Travis putting the Florida defense on skates in the regular-season finale, but it's fair to wonder what the season would have looked like for FSU without Shyheim Brown's blocked PAT to preserve a 24-23 win over LSU in New Orleans on Sept. 5. With a 24-17 lead, FSU looked to have the game wrapped up before Treshaun Ward was unable to handle a low pitch near the goal line. With less than two minutes to play, LSU proceeded to march 99 yards, scoring what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown to force overtime. With no time left, LSU needed just the extra point to force overtime. Brown, a reserve defensive back, came from nowhere to get a hand on Damian Ramos' kick, which hit the goal post before falling innocently to the turf.
Best Performance (Player): Johnny Wilson vs. Louisville
Narrowing this down to one wasn't easy, but when FSU needed Wilson to step up the most, the 6-foot-7 wide receiver did just that. With Travis injured in the ACC opener against Louisville on Sept. 17, the Seminoles were forced to go to Tate Rodemaker. Wilson made sure the redshirt sophomore got the job done. Wilson had a career night with seven catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with less than eight minutes to play in a 35-31 victory. It marked the first time since 2015 that FSU won its ACC opener.
Best Performance (Team): Nov. 12 at Miami
Beating Miami in head coach Mario Cristobal's first season was hardly an accomplishment, but the manner in which FSU did so should not be overlooked. Against the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium, FSU recorded the largest margin of victory for a road team in the history of the rivalry with a 45-3 win. Travis threw for three touchdowns while Trey Benson, who played for Cristobal at Oregon, added two more to go with 128 rushing yards. Defensively, FSU held Miami to just 188 yards and forced four turnovers.
Defining Moment: Beating Florida to Close the Regular Season
Like Miami under Cristobal, Florida didn't enjoy the greatest season in Year 1 under Billy Napier, but several years of frustration seemed to go by the wayside for FSU with a 45-38 win over the rival Gators on Nov. 25. Despite finishing 6-6, Florida gave the Seminoles all they wanted. The Gators led at halftime and erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to draw even. With more than four minutes left, Trey Benson's third touchdown run of the night put FSU ahead for good. The Seminoles forced a turnover on downs to secure their first win in the rivalry since 2017. Soon after, fans stormed the field to celebrate not only the win but how far the program had come.
Biggest Surprise: Greedy Vance, CB
It was unclear what role Louisville transfer Vance role play for the FSU secondary in 2022 — or if he would have one at all. Instead, he emerged as the best cover cornerback for the Seminoles, leading the team with three interceptions. In the regular season finale, FSU had no answer for Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall in the first half. In the second, Pearsall became Vance's assignment. He managed just one catch for nine yards over the final 30 minutes.
Biggest Disappointment: Blowing a 14-Point Lead at NC State
FSU will have a chance to get to 10 wins as it heads to Orlando for bowl season, but there's a strong case to be made that it should already be at 10 wins. The Seminoles lost three straight games to open October, but an Oct. 8 trip to Raleigh was there for the taking. With NC State quarterback Devin Leary out, the Seminoles self-destructed as a 17-3 lead became a 19-17 loss. Travis threw two critical interceptions, including one in the end zone with less than a minute remaining, while mental mistakes and breakdowns were commonplace on both sides of the ball.
Senior Who Will Be Missed the Most: Jammie Robinson, S
The nod here goes to the safety Robinson. A South Carolina transfer, Robinson was instrumental in changing the culture of the program over the last two seasons. In each of his two years in Tallahassee, Robinson led the team in tackles. A complete safety with the ability to blitz, tackle and cover downfield, Robinson will leave Tallahassee as a two-time, first-team All-ACC selection.
Player to Watch in 2023: Kalen DeLoach, LB
DeLoach is slowly but surely becoming one of the most complete linebackers in the ACC. After a breakout 2021, DeLoach flashed even more of his skill set in 2022. DeLoach is third on the team with 57 total tackles, adding 5.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. DeLoach quietly leads the team in pass breakups and also is tied for the team lead in quarterback hits.
Offseason Storyline: Can FSU Take the Next Step?
After going from three wins to five, FSU eclipsed its win total from the previous two seasons combined this year. While there was much to be happy about in 2022, the expectation for FSU will only be raised from here. As Norvell enters his fourth season as head coach, fans will be expecting the Seminoles to compete for ACC — and perhaps national — championships in the near future. Norvell's recruiting classes have been good but not stellar. Where he has excelled has been in pulling and developing talent from the transfer portal. It will be interesting to see if Norvell can build a championship-caliber roster.
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.