The Florida State Seminoles are finally seeing the fruits of their multiyear rebuild manifest on the field.
After finishing 2022 with their first winning season since Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M in 2019, the Seminoles (9-3) will look for their first bowl win of the Mike Norvell era when they face Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on Thursday.
“I think that trust has been established throughout the year and throughout the last couple years,” said Norvell, who is in his third season as the Seminoles’ head coach. “And so we know what it takes, and now we just have to go be the best we can.”
This is Florida State’s first bowl-eligible season since Norvell took over.
“It’s special. It puts a smile on my face every time I think about it,” Seminoles quarterback Jordan Travis said. “I’ve been here for a while now. I’ve seen a lot of down years. Just seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces means everything to me. Our fans are happy, which is big. We go to our games, and the games are sold out.
The Oklahoma Sooners, meanwhile, are at the beginning of a rebuild, as first-year coach Brent Venables tries to push the program forward after Lincoln Riley left for USC and took Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams with him.
The Sooners (6-6) had their worst finish since going 5-6 during the 1998 season.
“The bowl game is an opportunity to reward our team for their hard work,” Venables said. “It’s been a challenging season, but I know one in which our players are looking forward to getting down to Florida and to Orlando and getting a chance to play in this great venue.”
Oklahoma and Florida State will meet Thursday for just the seventh time, and the first since Sept. 9, 2011.
As the Sooners look for a win to avoid their first sub-.500 record in over two decades, they have seen several players enter the transfer portal or declare for the NFL draft. Four players — running back Eric Gray, offensive linemen Anton Harrison and Wanya Morris and defensive lineman Jalen Redmond — opted out of the bowl game.
Venables said the bowl will be an opportunity for young players to shine and for he and his staff to start filling in the holes on their roster.
“We feel like it’s going to be great for everybody in regards to guys finding a fresh start,” he said, “and for us to continue to fill the holes and the needs of our roster and add the depth where we need and see fit.”
The matchup between Travis and Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel will be a clash of two dual-threat playmakers.
Travis had the seventh-best QBR in 2022 in his third season at quarterback for the Seminoles. He passed for a career-best 2,796 yards and 22 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He also had seven touchdowns on the ground.
Gabriel, a UCF transfer, was named Big 12 newcomer of the year after passing for 2,920 yards and 24 TDs. He rushed for 298 yards and 5 TDs.
The Sooners are 6-1 all-time vs. Florida State, including a long history of success in bowl games against the Seminoles. Oklahoma has won three of four bowl games against Florida State, including a win over the Seminoles in the 2001 Orange Bowl to win the BCS national championship. In that game, the undefeated Sooners capped their dominant season with a 13-2 win over the No. 2 Seminoles.
RUN IT UP
Oklahoma will have a tough test against Florida State’s rushing attack, which led the ACC in rushing with 2,614 yards and 31 TDs and has a running quarterback and two of the ACC’s top 10 rushers.
Seminoles running back Trey Benson was fourth in the conference, with 965 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 141 carries. He averaged 80.4 rushing yards per game.
Treshaun Ward was seventh, with 547 yards on 85 carries with five TDs.
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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press