Some of y’all miiiiiiight have heard, but if not, I have some exciting news for you — the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team will begin its season this weekend!!!!
That’s right, your #9 ND squad will be traveling down to Tallahassee, where they’ll square off with the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Sunday evening. The Seminoles are in their second season under head coach Mike Norvell, having gone 3-6 during the 2020 COVID-shortened season, which included a 42-26 loss to the Irish in South Bend.
The big question, with lots of transfers added to the mix and a full, uninterrupted off-season with Norvell under their belts, is how improved FSU may be, and whether they stand a chance at pulling off the season-opening upset.
The Fighting Irish, of course, are fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance and 10-2 season overall in 2020. However, they’ve got plenty of questions of their own, considering the talent that moved on to the NFL and all the unproven and young players expected to contribute this season in said talent’s stead.
So, with all that said, I reached out to Jon Marchant of Tomahawk Nation to ask him some questions — from myself and from you, our loyal Twitter followers — to get a better grasp of what to expect on Sunday when Florida State tries to take down the Irish at home.
Let’s not dilly-dally any longer, folks — time to dive into Jon’s very informative answers and arm ourselves with knowledge!
1. Alrighty, it’s year two of the Mike Norvell era — how are you feeling about this team/season, and also about the long-term direction the program is heading?
Jon Marchant: For us at Tomahawk Nation, we’re looking at this as Year 1 and last season as Year 0. FSU moving quickly from Jimbo Fisher to Willie Taggart and then hiring Norvell meant FSU had two debilitating transfer classes in the Early Signing Period within three seasons. On top of that, Covid-19 significantly disrupted Norvell’s first season in Tallahassee; they lost almost their entire spring camp and the disruptions continued from there.
How do I feel about the long-term direction of the program? Good, but also patient. FSU was in a deep, deep hole, and is still climbing its way out. I believe this program is headed in the right direction, but Fisher left FSU much worse off than Bobby Bowden did when he retired in 2009 (RIP to the GOAT).
This season I believe FSU is a fragile 6-8 win team with limited depth saddled with the 12th-toughest schedule in the country. So it will be a struggle to make a bowl game. I think 2023 is the year we find out how good of a coach Mike Norvell really is.
2. FAN QUESTION:
Who is the starting QB? If Milton does he have a long ball threat receiver.— Charlie Hindman (@CHindman76) August 24, 2021
Editor’s Addition: Please answer the second question no matter who the starter is going to be, and also please tell us a little about what said starter brings to the table as QB of this FSU offense.
Jon Marchant: At TN we’ve all got different opinions on who will start, or who should start. I personally think McKenzie Milton gets the nod. Some think Jordan Travis has made enough strides in the development of his passing game where his legs and athletic ability could give him the edge to start. But Norvell isn’t tipping his hand. If Milton wins the job Travis will see the field anyway for about maybe ten touches a game, he’s just too good of an athlete to keep him off.
Milton’s biggest strength is how quickly he can get the ball out. He doesn’t have the strongest arm but it’s negated to a large degree by his anticipation. Not just his decision-making, but also his delivery is very fast. That helps negate both pass rush and coverage. FSU’s running game was very good last season, but its passing game was nearly nonexistent. Milton was brought in to help fix that.
Norvell hit the transfer portal hard to try and raise the floor and ceiling of the talent level on the team, and besides Milton that included getting speedster Andrew Parchment from Kansas. So he will replace Tamorrion Terry in that regard, but there’s some question as to whether Parchment can be a true No. 1 receiver instead of just filling the role as the guy who takes the top off a defense.
3. FAN QUESTION:
Where does Milton rank in the history of athletes named McKenzie?— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) August 27, 2021
Jon Marchant: You made me Google McKenzie athletes, so at least I learned something today haha.
To be fair, I still don’t know. Not the worst, not the best. After his knee injury he’s not the same athlete he was before either.
4. If you had to pick one greatest strength and one greatest weakness of the 2021 FSU offense, what would they be?
Jon Marchant: The greatest weakness is easily the receivers. They were by far the worst position group on offense last season, and by now everyone is familiar with FSU’s notorious offensive line struggles for the last five years. There’s some intriguing young skill talent here, but are they ready to contribute? This group feels like they’re two seasons away from approaching FSU standards in terms of starters and depth.
For greatest strength, maybe running backs? There’s a lot of quality depth here, even if there’s no one on the level of Cam Akers, much less Dalvin Cook. But I say that pending what we get from the quarterbacks and maybe even the offensive line by the end of the season.
5. The Irish have question marks/unproven guys at a majority of the positions on offense. How do you see the FSU defense matching up with ND, and how do you think Jack Coan and the Notre Dame offense should attack the Seminoles offensively?
Jon Marchant: Honestly, I’m not sure. FSU also heavily hit the portal for defensive linemen to try and rebuild that unit, snagging guys like Keir Thomas, Jermaine Johnson, and Marcus Cushnie. I remember FSU getting run over on quite a few plays against the Irish last season, so we’ll find out early if the new-look Seminole front can withstand a similar attack.
Then in the secondary last season, there was a ton of talent that played less than the sum of their parts. The big weakness there was on the boundary, where FSU couldn’t cover anything. FSU’s staff seems to have a much better handle on the talent on hand as it has shuffled guys around. Hopefully that problem is fixed and overall is a much-improved unit.
So, I believe Notre Dame will have most of its success attacking FSU’s linebackers in coverage. It was a real weakness last season and I’m not convinced it’s been solved. Even if it has, there’s very limited depth here in that regard. I would imagine play-action passes would be very effective at exploiting the intermediate part of the field.
6. FAN QUESTION:
What happens if the BS (poorly called) OPI penalty in 2014 isn’t called? For the season and subsequent seasons (Jimbo leaving, etc).— Waffles (@ryanmullzy) August 25, 2021
***TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALL NOTRE DAME FANS***
Jon Marchant: Haha I was there and it was pretty obvious OPI to me! If the receiver just turns his head around and even slightly pretends to look for the ball as if it’s a route instead of straight-up blocking, it’s a TD. Also, the reason the refs called it that time was Jimbo was in their ear all game about ND repeatedly violating the rule. IIRC I’m pretty sure at least one and likely two other touchdowns ND scored that game were on similar pick plays.
I get it. It’s like what UF used to do and have their cornerbacks hold on every play — force the refs to call it, knowing they’re not gonna call it every play. But sometimes you get burned. I watched at least one more ND game that season and the receivers complied with the rule after that, so that call is on ND’s coaches, not the refs.
Regardless, I think this is an interesting question with a surprisingly uninteresting answer. Had that call not happened and FSU lost, everything that did happen would have happened anyway. FSU would have made the playoffs anyway because no one is keeping out the returning national champs with just one loss and FSU’s program was already crumbling from within.
The interesting “What If?” is whether this loss would have led to other losses that season. If that was the case, I think everything else is accelerated and Fisher leaves earlier, likely for LSU instead of Texas A&M. As for who that leaves FSU with, I have no idea, but I imagine FSU would not have fallen as deep into the hole it’s in.
7. If you had to pick one X-factor — the player whose performance will be most important to FSU’s chances of winning — for each of the FSU offense, defense, and special teams units, whom would you choose?
Jon Marchant: For offense, QB easily. FSU needs a consistent level of play out of whoever starts.
For defense, I’ll go with Georgia transfer edge rusher Jermaine Johnson. He’s explosive and massively upgrades that position. FSU can’t afford to lose him.
And on special teams, I’ll go with punter Alex Mastromanno. FSU’s special teams were pretty good last season but you can always get better at putting your opponents further from the end zone.
8. FAN QUESTION:
Their band is the Marching Chiefs. Is there a leadership issue if everyone is a chief? 470 chiefs is too many chiefs, IMO.— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) August 27, 2021
Jon Marchant: Haha I agree with you. I guess that’s why they have three drum majors. But is that too many drum majors? Or not enough???
I mean, if they have to have three of them so all the chiefs can see them, who do the chiefs look to when they turn and play to the other side of the stadium??
9. FAN QUESTION:
I firmly believe that every college football team should have a secondary dog mascot (#BringBackClashmoreMike). What breed of dog would FSU have, and what would it’s name be?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) August 27, 2021
Jon Marchant: This might be the best idea I’ve ever heard. I’m not biased or anything but I vote for my golden retriever Lily haha.
I do remember reading once that Native Americans had obviously domesticated dogs long before Europeans brought horses, such as the Appaloosa horse Renegade that is FSU’s mascot today and upon which Osceola sits. Europeans wiped out those Native American dogs but I read they resembled dingos, or Siberian husky-like dogs.
Another Seminole legend is Abiaka, so perhaps the pup would be named after him. Although, FSU could always go the LSU route and use a Florida panther as their mascot.
10. If you were starting a TikTok account featuring 3 current Seminoles players, whom would you choose to be your influencers and why?
If you were to add one coach from the current staff as a recurring guest star, whom would you choose and why?
Jon Marchant: Ok, so I would go tight end Camm McDonald (cough), big Robert Cooper, and I suppose Milton, who has heavily marketed himself for NIL.
As for coach, I’ll go with offensive line coach Alex Atkins, because he’s cool as hell and definitely a rising star in the coaching world.
11. FAN QUESTION:
Is it a tradition for FSU seniors to descend upon the Everglades to hunt alligators with spears the week of the UF game, and if not why?— Harry Joe (@Joseph_Socks) August 27, 2021
Jon Marchant: It is not, because the alligators are EVERYWHERE in this state and we have gunpowder now.
12. Okay, let’s get down to it: who’s going to win, what is the final score, and how did we get there?
Jon Marchant: While Notre Dame seems like a big question mark, at least compared to recent seasons, and FSU should be better than last year, I just don’t see a win for FSU here. I believe the ’Noles will be much more competitive this season overall than they were last year, but the Irish program is just in a much better place.
Bobby Bowden once said you lose big, then lose a little, then you win a little, then you win big. This is the ‘lose a little’ year. I’ll go with Notre Dame by 10. A little closer than the 16 point loss of last season. I just don’t want FSU to lose by 3 or 4 touchdowns or to be out of the game before we reach the end of the third quarter.
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Jon for once again answering all our questions with immense thoughtfulness, excellent insight, and a sense of humor. Be sure you go check out his work over at Tomahawk Nation, where they’ve got tons of great news and insights to devour heading into Sunday’s match-up, including a Q&A with yours truly!!!!!!!
Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give both Tomahawk Nation and Jon a follow on Twitter, as both are terrific for any and all hard-hitting Seminoles news and analysis, as well as Jon’s exquisite dog content.
Face: happy— Jon (@pupperstate) July 24, 2021
Fluff: very thick
Occupation: perfect angel and professional snuggler pic.twitter.com/eLGvmaiLaR
That’s all for this week, folks — Go Irish!