NCAA Football

Florida State has come a long way in Norvell’s 3rd season

Florida State has come a long way in Norvell’s 3rd season

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Robert Cooper appreciates the change few of his Florida State teammates can match.

Defensive reception entrusted coach Jimbo Fisher. He survived Willie Taggart. He went through Mike Norvell’s early struggles.

Now he is enjoying his earnings. Cooper and the 16th-ranked Seminoles (8-3) have won four straight games by 25 or more points and have a chance to put an exclamation point on their regular season when they host reeling rival Florida (6 -5).

Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 335-pound senior from Lilburn, Ga., said Monday the team has come “a long way” since he first joined Fisher and FSU in 2016.

“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “I can’t even put my finger on it, but a lot has changed with this program. I’m definitely proud to be a part of it.”

His path could improve with a win over the Gators, who are coming off their first loss at Vanderbilt since 1988.

Florida State is looking to beat archrivals Miami and Florida State in the same season for the first time since 2016. It would be a major milestone for Norvell, who went 3-6 in his first season and has a chance to climb above .500 (currently 16-16) for the first time in three seasons in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles’ 42-point rout of Miami sparked a new level of enthusiasm among fans who celebrated the victories, along with back-to-back Atlantic Coast Conference titles and national championships, the latter of which came under Fisher in 2013. But the program’s woes included coaching changes and missed games in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

Norwell is proud of how his teams finished. He is 19-5 in seven seasons at Memphis and Florida State entering November, including 3-0 this year.

“It’s one of the core things of our identity that we want to be remembered for,” he said. “I think I said it the other day: It’s so easy to say it in the beginning, ‘Oh, we’re going to finish.’ Are you willing to do something on a daily basis to put yourself in a position to consistently improve throughout the season so that you can? It’s not easy.”

Norvell and the Seminoles have shown progress during their winning streak and enter Game 1 of the series Friday night as 10-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Gators have Norvell’s attention and respect, but don’t ask him to call Florida by its first name.

“I just don’t do it,” he said. “This is a talented team. Great size, speed, athleticism. You have seen them play at a very high level at different times of the year. This is one that is very capable. They have a new staff, new schemes, different things in their first year.”

The Gators ranged from awesome to awful. They upset then-No. 7 Utah opened the year with late one-score games against Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia, but lost them all.

They seemed to be building momentum in November until last weekend’s stunning loss at Vanderbilt. Coach Billy Napier admitted it was a setback but remains confident progress has been made.

Still, Napier needs a win in Tallahassee to avoid becoming the first Florida coach to lose to the program’s three biggest rivals — Tennessee, Georgia and Florida — in the same season.

“I think we have a lot of young players who have gained confidence as the season has gone on,” Napier said. “I also think we’re a team that can be very average, and we’re a team that can be elite. I guess it all comes down to doing it when it matters, right? Let go of the ball to go execute and go do your job.”

That’s exactly what Cooper did to help the Seminoles turn things around.

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