Friedlander: Jordan Travis' injury didn't end Florida State's title hopes, but it will eventually
If you’d have said that Florida State’s national championship hopes would get Tomahawk chopped against a team from Alabama, you’d think it would have been against the Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff.
Not the North Alabama Lions in a guarantee game.
But here we are.
Even though 4th-ranked Seminoles were able to improve to 11-0 by rallying from an early 13-point deficit, their 58-13 victory against a 3-7 FCS opponent Saturday night felt like anything but a win. And it will almost certainly knock them out of the top 4 when the next Playoff rankings are announced on Tuesday.
Jordan Travis’ gruesome injury doesn’t officially end FSU’s bid to return to national prominence.
It only delays what is now inevitable.
Whether it happens next week against rival Florida or the following Saturday against No. 10 Louisville in the ACC Championship Game, Mike Norvell’s team suddenly finds itself on a collision course for a massive case of the ‘what-ifs.’
Even though Norvell and his players will sing the praises of the next man up, Tate Rodemaker, who filled in for Jordan last season to lead FSU to a win – ironically enough, against Louisville – you just don’t recover that easily from the loss of a Heisman-quality quarterback who has been his team’s heart and soul for at least the past 3 years.
Even with all the other talent that still remains. On both sides of the ball.
The nightmare scenario to the Seminoles’ dream season came late in the 1st quarter at the end of a zone read keeper in which Travis ran for 16 yards and a 1st down. As he was dragged down from behind near midfield by 1 defender, he was hit from the opposite side by another.
As he was forced backward, his left foot buckled and folded back at a grotesque angle. He immediately called for medical help and was eventually carted from the field.
It was a surreal scene that cast an understandable pall over the previously festive Senior Night crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"It was emotional for everybody."
Mike Norvell on seeing Jordan Travis being carted off the field with a leg injury. pic.twitter.com/8voQWK2TGU
— CBS Sports College Football 🏈 (@CBSSportsCFB) November 19, 2023
“Coming in, we knew this was Jordan Travis’ last game in Doak Campbell Stadium,” Norvell said in his postgame comments. “I wanted to see him have a special game, have a special experience. Anytime somebody gets hurt, its hurts. It’s painful to see, it’s painful to have to go through. You just want to so bad for that kid. Because he does everything right. He really is just a special, special young man.”
It was supposed to be a night of celebration.
FSU’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, was on hand to have his jersey retired. But instead of wearing his own No. 5, he entered the stadium wearing Travis’ No. 13 as a tribute to the program’s latest Heisman hopeful.
Who could have imagined that only a short time after addressing the team in the locker room before a game that should have been a victory lap for a senior class that has resurrected their program the depths of an upset loss to Jacksonville State in 2021 to the cusp of a return to its past glory, Winston would be offering up prayers in a sideline interview.
Jameis Winston rocking a Jordan Travis jersey while walking into Doak with his family.
— Logan B. Robinson (@LogansTwitty) November 18, 2023
As bad as the situation was, it could have been even worse.
Down on the scoreboard and emotionally crushed, the Seminoles regrouped to score 24 2nd-quarter points to take at least take defeat out of the equation. While all 3 touchdowns came on the ground, with Trey Benson, Caziah Holmes and Lawrance Toafili scoring once each, Rodemaker threw for 117 yards in the period.
“Getting out there and throwing a few passes settled me in,” the junior backup said. “Everybody trusted me. Everybody was backing me up when Jordan went down. That helped me gain a little confidence and become comfortable out there. I appreciate them for that.”
Rodemaker finished the night 13-of-23 for 217 yards and a pair of touchdown passes before Novell got him and other starters out to prevent any further catastrophies.
But it’s one thing to put numbers on the board against a 3-7 FCS opponent. Keeping the Seminoles’ usually explosive offense on track against the more formidable competition to come will be a much more difficult proposition without Travis pulling the trigger.
The 6th-year graduate student, who started his career at Louisville, ends his career as FSU’s all-time leader in total offense, in touchdown responsibility and rushing touchdowns for a quarterback.
He completed 64% of his passes this season for 2,755 yards and 20 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions to go along with 7 rushing touchdowns.
But his stats are only part of the reason he is so important to the Seminoles.
He’s the leader that always seems to find a way to make a play when his team needs it most, whether it’s the 2nd-half fireworks he helped ignite in the season opener against LSU, the laser he threw to Keon Coleman in overtime to end Clemson’s 7-year ACC home winning streak or the game-changing 14-play, 96-yard drive he engineered to rally his team past Duke.
It’s an intangible that can’t easily be replicated.
Let alone replaced.