FSU roster turnover, recruiting woes, grad transfer options
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Not much has gone right for Florida State in 2020. Although it was never fair to expect Mike Norvell to orchestrate a quick turnaround in his first year on the job with very little spring practice and the numerous other obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic has created, it probably is fair to say the Seminoles having just two wins to this point in 2020 is disappointing.
Even during this season where COVID-related cancelations were inevitable, almost nobody would have expected a 38-22 loss at NC State on Nov. 14 to be the last time the Seminoles would play in almost a month (assuming Saturday’s game against Duke is played).
The final minutes of that game offered some reason for optimism heading into the final stretch of the season and for the program’s future.
True freshman quarterback Chubba Purdy led the Seminoles to 19 second-half points, which was rather encouraging since Florida State had failed to score an offensive point in each of its previous three games.
It looked like the Seminoles finally found a bit of a spark in Purdy before an onslaught of injuries and opt-outs from key players began to mount.
In a span of less than two weeks Purdy, along with senior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and senior offensive tackle Devontay Love-Taylor, were diagnosed with season-ending injuries.
In addition, top wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, quarterback James Blackman and defensive tackle Cory Durden all opted out and left the program.
Next came running back La’Damian Webb, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. and linebacker Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, among others. It was a continuation of some drastic roster turnover over the past year for the Seminoles.
Since December of 2019, Florida State has now had 19 different players enter the transfer portal.
1. QB James Blackman
2. RB Anthony Grant
3. RB Khalan Laborn
4. WR Tamorrion Terry
5. WR D.J. Matthews
6. WR Isaiah Bolden
7. WR Tre’Shaun Harrison
8. TE Tre’ McKitty
9. OL Jay Williams
10. OL Jauan Williams
11. OL Andrew Boselli
12. OL Christian Meadows
13. OL Mike Arnold
14. DT Cory Durden
15. DE JaMarcus Chatman
16. LB Jaiden Lars-Woodbey
17. CB Kyle Meyers
18. CB A.J. Lytton
19. S Cyrus Fagan
It’s natural for some roster turnover to occur during a coaching transition, but that is nearly a quarter of the entire number of scholarship players permitted to be on an FBS roster.
“A first-year coach at a program, I never think about attrition, from the first day I got here, these are all my guys, my players,” Norvell said last week. “I’m responsible for them, and it’s part of my job to help them grow and develop in every aspect. I don’t want to lose any player. There are guys we’ve had to go in different directions with, due to whatever circumstance or decisions that are made, but I can promise you that I want guys here who are 100 percent invested in growth and development.”
It’s unclear if there is a common denominator as to why so many players have left the program this year. Several players openly criticized Norvell in the offseason on two separate occasions for his handling of the Black Lives Matter protests and the program’s COVID-19 protocols.
However, before the team’s originally scheduled game against Duke on Nov. 28 was postponed, the Seminoles hadn’t had a single COVID-19 case within the program since Norvell tested positive in mid-September. There hasn’t been any further criticism of Norvell from players since the offseason. Not publicly, at least.
It’s also possible that many of the players deciding to leave the program don’t see Florida State competing for championships while they still have eligibility remaining. Who can blame them for that?
Just three years ago, Florida State was considered one of the elite programs in the sport and a highly attractive destination for many of the top high school players in the nation.
In 2017 and 2018, Florida State signed the No. 6 and No. 11 recruiting classes in the country, respectively, per 247Sports.
In the last decade, seven of the 10 national championship teams had an average four-year recruiting class ranking inside the top-10, so those two classes were a success.
13 of the 18 players listed earlier were members of those recruiting classes. Seven of those 13 players were four or five-star prospects.
It’s safe to assume all of those players signed with Florida State, expecting they would compete for ACC Championships every year and maybe have a shot at a national title at some point.
Obviously, that has not transpired with the Seminoles winning just seven (2017), six (2018), five (2019) and two (2020, still in progress) games over the last four seasons.
None of those players can be faulted for wanting to explore other opportunities where they’ll have a better chance to win while they still can.
What’s even more ominous is that Florida State’s current recruiting class, ranked No. 31 nationally, is on pace to be the lowest-rated class they’ve signed since recruiting rankings started being tracked in the early 2000s.
With all of the roster turnover in the past year and the talent level within the program continuing to decrease, Norvell will likely have to rely heavily on the transfer portal this offseason.
The good news is Norvell has already proven he can do that, adding several players that way this past offseason: Love-Taylor, RB Jashaun Corbin, TE Jordan Wilson, DL Fabien Lovett, DE Deonte Williams, DE Jarrett Jackson, CB Jarrian Jones and CB Meiko Dotson.
What Norvell did not do was aggressively pursue a transfer quarterback last offseason, despite several clear upgrades like JT Daniels, KJ Costello, Feleipe Franks and D’Eriq King being available.
That’s a mistake Florida State cannot repeat this offseason for a couple of reasons.
First of all, four-star 2021 quarterback Luke Altmyer flipped from Florida State to Ole Miss last week, leaving the Seminoles as one of just seven power-five teams currently without a quarterback commit in the 2021 cycle.
Four-star quarterback Jake Garcia recently decommitted from USC and is still available. The Seminoles would be wise to go after him given that he played at nearby Valdosta High School this season. However, Miami seems to be the current favorite to land Garcia.
If the Seminoles can’t land Garcia or another 2021 quarterback, they’ll be left with just three scholarship quarterbacks on their roster: Purdy, Jordan Travis and Tate Rodemaker.
Purdy and Travis have both been injured multiple times this season though and Rodemaker has underwhelmed in multiple appearances, so they’ll likely need another option.
The second reason is that a star quarterback who spent the last three seasons playing just a few hours south of Tallahassee at UCF recently entered the transfer portal.
McKenzie Milton is someone Florida State must at least consider, and there is reportedly mutual interest. Milton had 8,683 passing yards and 72 touchdowns to 22 interceptions, along with 1,078 rushing yards for UCF before suffering a gruesome knee injury late in 2018.
He has since recovered but hasn’t seen any game action since the injury. There is no guarantee he will be as good as he once was, but that doesn’t seem like a risk Florida State can afford to take right now. Milton would have by far the best combination of production and experience of any quarterback on the Seminoles’ roster right now.
Norvell is familiar with Milton’s track record too, having coached against him several times while he was coaching at Memphis.
Florida State has also fallen behind other premiere programs just in the state of Florida alone. Florida, Miami and UCF are all in a much better place today than the Seminoles.
Miami actually provides a nice blueprint for how the Seminoles can rebuild. The Hurricanes were 7-6 in 2018 and 6-7 in 2019, and they’re currently 8-1 with a shot to go to a New Year’s Six Bowl. The biggest difference this year is they added a quality grad transfer QB in King, who has made their offense significantly more explosive and fun to watch.
Florida State could inject a similar spark into the program by adding a quarterback like Milton for a year. Does that mean Florida State will make a New Year’s Six Bowl next year? Unlikely, but in order to land elite recruits, Florida State needs to start winning more and vice versa.
However, Florida State is not recruiting well enough at the high school level right now to win consistently, so Norvell must rely on the transfer portal for now and find players who can make an immediate impact.
Another obvious position in need of an upgrade is along the offensive line. It’s no secret that Florida State has not had good offensive line play since the end of the Jimbo Fisher era. This year’s unit ranks 106th out of 129 FBS teams, according to Pro Football Focus.
Sean Auwae (Vanderbilt), Lamarius Benson (UCF) and Titus Jones (Memphis) could all be options for next season.
It’s fair to argue that Florida State is no further along right now than when Norvell was hired last December. That doesn’t mean Norvell won’t end up being the long-term answer for the Seminoles, but right now there still doesn’t seem to be a clear direction for the program.
Nobody knows for certain who the team’s quarterback of the future is. Bringing in Milton for one year won’t answer that question, but for a program that has been under a dark cloud the last four years, Milton would at least temporarily bring some intrigue back to the program and aid recruiting efforts in the future.
Norvell bypassed taking a big swing on the transfer quarterback market last offseason. That’s a mistake he cannot repeat this time around if Florida State is going to get back on the right track.
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