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Florida State to Face Unique Challenges in 2020

By Dave Holcomb
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Though things remain wide open in the ACC for the Seminoles, the lack of early home games and a few toss-up match ups coming on the road will provide Florida State several tests in 2020.

Florida State football used to be notorious for its record-setting 36 straight trips to bowl games, but over the last three years, the program has become more well known as a slow starter.

With a difficult September slate in 2020, new head coach Mike Norvell will be challenged to change that narrative.

It’s not that Florida State necessarily plays extremely difficult competition. Other than Clemson, things remain wide open in the ACC for the Seminoles, but the lack of early home games and a few toss-up matchups coming on the road will provide Florida State several tests in 2020.

The excitement surrounding the Seminoles program with Norvell now at the helm mirrors how much enthusiasm there was for Willie Taggart taking over two years ago. But that quickly came to a halt when Florida State lost 24-3 to Virginia Tech in Taggart’s first game.

The Seminoles bounced back to win three of the next four to start 2018, but then a heartbreaking one-point loss to Miami and blowout defeat to Clemson in October sent the season in a tailspin. Nearly the same thing happened last year.

Florida State needed a missed extra-point from Louisiana-Monroe in overtime to avoid an 0-2 start and then 0-3. In Week 1, the Seminoles blew a 12-point halftime lead at home to Boise State, and Taggart embarrassingly blamed the heat and dehydration for the loss.

Florida State is 7-6 in August/September over the last three years. Avoiding a September hole and showing the program is headed in the right direction is why the first month is so important for Norvell.

It won’t necessarily be easy, though, as the Seminoles play only one home game before the second week of October, and that’s against Samford. In Norvell’s first four games, his team will face West Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, make a trip to Boise State and visit N.C. State.

All three are winnable games. West Virginia and N.C. State both posted below .500 records in 2019, and while Boise State went 12-2 last season, the Broncos true colors seemed to come out when they lost 38-7 versus Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Then again, it’s possible Florida State loses all three contests too. Such a start wouldn’t be catastrophic, but Norvell would obviously like to prove in his first month that things are going to be different with him at the helm. The only way to do that is to win.

While the Seminoles return home for Week 6, it won’t be for a cupcake, as they take on Clemson on Oct. 10. Assuming that’s a loss and the matchup against Samford is a win, Florida State will need to pick up two wins in the games against West Virginia, Boise State and N.C. State to be above .500 in the middle of October.

That’s when the meat of the ACC schedule begins. Florida State actually plays all eight of its ACC games in a row this year without any bye weeks. The Seminoles draw divisional crossover Pitt, along with Wake Forest and Boston College at home (and Clemson), but that means in addition to N.C. State, Florida State will play Miami, Louisville and Syracuse on the road.

None of those away matchups are going to be easy. Florida State hasn’t beaten Miami since 2016, and Louisville improved so much last year under first-year coach Scott Satterfield, the Cardinals are poised to rise to the top of the Atlantic Division (under Clemson).

The Orange didn’t go bowling this past fall, but the Seminoles will make their trip up to Syracuse for a Thursday night affair on Nov. 19.

There couldn’t be a worse situation for Florida State. Remember, when Syracuse upset Clemson in 2017, it came on a Friday night, and the last time the Seminoles were at Syracuse in 2018, the air conditioning in the Carrier Dome stopped working.

Weird things happen in that dome, but especially during primetime matchups on a weekday. It may be because Syracuse football doesn’t draw all that well for those contests, and it’s difficult for the road trip to “get up” for the game when there’s such a small amount of energy in the crowd.

The good news about the Thursday night matchup at Syracuse, though, is that Florida State has two extra days to prepare for rival Florida. Under Taggart the last two years, the Gators defeated the Seminoles twice by a combined score of 81-31.

No Power 5 program is going to have an “easy” football schedule. Based on their opponents win percentages from last season, the Seminoles don’t have a hard slate, but some of the road trips and eight straight conference games is going to immediately put the Norvell era through the ringer.

All the more reason starting strong will be important to Florida State taking a step back towards national prominence.