Hayes: Thanks to transfers, FSU's rebuild was fast. Now, it's up to recruits to keep it going
The transfer portal bill is due, and it’s looming. The only thing that has softened the blow is that every last move was worth it.
Until Jordan Travis broke his leg, and the Playoff last weekend moved away from an unbeaten Power 5 conference champion and into the waiting arms of Alabama.
What’s left now for Florida State? Paying the transfer portal bill — and a rebuild in 2024 full of young players.
“We’ve got talented guys at tight end, at wide receiver, at running back; they’re all going to be good players,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said 2 weeks ago. “They might not be playing a ton right now, but they’re talented players.”
Norvell knew it would come to this, and 4 years and 48 transfers later, Florida State is a completely different program from what he inherited in 2020.
A program still reeling from the careless and reckless last 2 years of Jimbo Fisher. A program with no identity and quickly losing credibility after Willie Taggart didn’t even last 2 seasons trying to clean up Fisher’s mess.
The idea then of Norvell building organically through high school recruiting, or sustaining a season or 2 with the inherited roster, was utterly laughable. So Norvell and his staff recruited and evaluated the transfer portal better than any other program in college football, and mortgaged the future to get rich quicker.
“The only way it was going to work,” an FSU staffer told Saturday Road, “was if we hit on just about everybody and turned this thing into what it used to be.”
And wouldn’t you know it, they’ll pulled the damn thing off.
The plan had to work nearly flawlessly to turn a stale program back into a national power. Because flipping a roster by adding so many 1- or 2-year transfers meant, eventually, a future roster would be full of the unknown with inexperienced underclassmen.
In other words, by Year 3, FSU would be transitioning from relying on transfers for the heavy lifting, to relying on young players. The only way that worked was through significant success with transfers, which would lead to a restrengthening of the FSU brand and the ability to recruit again at an elite level.
Players win games. Elite players win championships.
Now here we are, 3 years later, and FSU is primed to land the No. 3 high school recruiting class in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings. That’s a year after landing the No. 19 class in the nation.
Those 2 classes were preceded by the Nos. 20, 23 and 22 classes, when Norvell and his staff were relying on impact transfers to change momentum. What FSU has now is an elite 2024 recruiting class built by winning 23 of its past 26 games in 2022-23, including a current 19-game winning streak.
The plan couldn’t have worked better. But now it’s time to pay the mortgage.
Travis is off the NFL. So are WRs Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman, and DLs Jared Verse, Fabien Lovett and Braden Fisk, and LB Tatum Bethune. But it doesn’t end there.
OLs Jeremiah Byers, Casey Roddick and D’Mitri Emmanuel, and DB Jarrian Jones are gone, too. That’s just for starters — and doesn’t include juniors likely headed for the NFL (RB Trey Benson, CB Fentrell Cypress II), and others leaving for the portal (so far DE Patrick Payton and backup OL Bless Harris).
All but Payton were recruited from the transfer portal. That’s 15 players critical to FSU success over the past 2 seasons leaving a huge void for 2024.
That means young players — many redshirt and true freshmen — will have to play in 2024 to continue the rebuild. Norvell will still use the portal to supplement the roster, but the majority of what FSU will use are young players who have developed in the program.
Much of that will be on display when the Noles play Georgia in the Orange Bowl, if — as expected — a majority of NFL Draft eligible players opt out of the game to protect their future.
Players like WRs Destyn Hill and Hakeem Williams, RB Rodney Hill, LB Omar Graham, and CB Quindarrius Jones. Blue-chip QB recruit Luke Kromenhoek — the No. 4-ranked QB nationally — will enroll early and compete with Tate Rodemaker and Brock Glenn — and at least 1 quarterback from the portal — to replace Travis.
The plan is for Kromenhoek to enroll in late December and be available for some of FSU’s 15 bowl practices (he’s not eligible for the Orange Bowl). Getting a quarterback of Kromenhoek’s ranking (No. 33 overall nationally) was a pipe dream when Norvell arrived in 2020 and his first 6 months consisted of dealing with a pandemic while seeing/coaching his players through zoom calls.
FSU had 2 players in the top 100 in the 2023 class (Williams and OT Lucas Simmons, who will also compete for a starting job in 2024). The Noles have 7 in the current class, and it’s far from complete.
“Where do you go from here? There’s nothing to be satisfied with,” Norvell said. “You’re appreciative of the work you put in. But I want better. And these players want better.”
Maybe FSU didn’t mortgage the future after all.
Maybe the Noles pulled off the perfect plan — and 2024 is simply the next step.