Florida State checked in at No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings, falling down one spot as Washington claimed the coveted No. 4 slot. As the 11-0 Seminoles prepare for their regular-season finale against rival Florida on Saturday in The Swamp, they are doing so without star quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a season-ending injury in last week's win over FCS North Alabama.
While the College Football Playoff Selection Committee insists the Seminoles' drop has more to do with Washington's superior resume, it's undeniable that Mike Norvell's team now faces the most critical turning point in a dream 2023 season without one of the most decorated players in program history. At No. 5 in the rankings, Florida State cannot afford a loss between now and Selection Sunday.
There are now two options. Either Florida State will rally around each other to overcome this late-season setback, or Travis' injury will define what Seminoles fans will remember as a missed opportunity to return to the playoff for the first time in nearly a decade.
So which way will this go for Florida State?
Oddsmakers are often among the fastest to adjust to landscape-shifting injury news. So we can see the impact of Travis' injury on Florida State's College Football Playoff hopes in two ways. First, FSU's current odds to make the playoff (+130) correlate to a 43.5% implied likelihood, while the chances of beating Florida on Saturday and Louisville in the ACC Championship Game (+111 as a parlay) suggest a 47.3% likelihood. You could choose to round down or ignore the 4% difference that may be public perception of chaos scenarios rather than the hard odds of finishing 13-0, but it's far simpler to round up when looking at Florida State heading into the weekend.
In the wake of losing Travis, Florida State has a 50-50 chance of making the College Football Playoff. So every 50-50 play from here on out, starting with Saturday in Gainesville against rival Florida, potentially has College Football Playoff implications. Many of those 50-50 moments are going to come down to the play of new starting quarterback Tate Rodemaker, the redshirt junior veteran who had a rocky start to his FSU career but has a chance to go down as one of the most memorable names in the illustrious history of Seminoles football.
This isn't Rodemaker's first rodeo
Year 1 of the Mike Norvell era was the most Year 0 of any Year 0 situation in recent memory. Hired to replace Willie Taggart in December 2019, Norvell was just getting started on his first spring practice when the sport shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 season did not include a ton of good breaks for Florida State, with multiple game cancellations and even Norvell missing a game while quarantining. There weren't a lot of wins either; the Seminoles went 3-6 overall and finished 12th in the ACC standings.
Rodemaker was a freshman that season, sharing a quarterback room with James Blackman, Chubba Purdy and Travis. After an 0-2 start to the season, Norvell tapped Rodemaker to start against FCS Jacksonville State ... and it did not go well. Rodemaker threw for 58 yards and an interception before he was replaced by Travis, who led the Seminoles to their first win of the year and has remained (when healthy) the program's QB1 ever since.
"It wasn't a real fun start, and I hate that we had to put him in that position, to be honest with you," Norvell said this week, via 247Sports. "But he's really done a lot of great things, and he's stuck through the journey, has continued to prepare. It is his time."
Rodemaker was able to get some redemption two years later when Travis was knocked out of the game with an injury on the road against Louisville last season. Standing in the wake of a stunning upset over LSU in New Orleans, the expectations had not really set in yet for a group that would go on to finish the year 10-3. But Rodemaker's performance -- scoring a couple touchdowns and guiding Florida State to a 35-31 win against star QB Malik Cunningham and the Cardinals -- help keep the momentum going for a team that was laying the foundation for all the success that would come in 2023.
Florida State's coaches have referenced that Louisville game when discussing Rodemaker's ability to handle the moment in a hostile environment, which undoubtedly what Florida has in store for the Seminoles on Saturday night.
According to reports from practice, it seems Florida State is more prepared to deal with some growing pains thanks to the fact they're dealing with a veteran and not a rookie. Rodemaker doesn't have a ton of career starts, but he's mature enough to understand that if there's a mistake, then there is likely a reason and it's fixable. There will be high-pressure moments in the next two weeks that require the ability take coaching on the fly, and Rodemaker's commitment to the program and knowledge of Norvell's offense should help him in those spots.
Cardale Jones, 'The Rooster' and chance at history
A huge part of the discussion this week has been harkening back to recent examples of national-championship contenders suffering quarterback injuries in the final weeks of the season. This is where Florida State fans are hoping that Tate Rodemaker is going to be their Cardale Jones, who stepped in for the injured J.T. Barrett and led Ohio State to the national championship in 2014.
Jones had recorded 16 pass attempts across nine appearances in 2013 and 2014 before Barrett suffered his season-ending injury against Michigan in 2014. The only performance of note was a two-touchdown addition to a 55-14 rout of Illinois in early November, but even that came on just nine pass attempts in garbage time. A third-stringer to the start year before Braxton Miller was injured in the preseason, Jones was an in-state prospect with good size, rating a high three-star or low four-star in the recruiting rankings. But when his number was called, Jones answered with an all-time relief effort, throwing for three touchdowns an no interceptions in a 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game before guiding the offense successfully to wins over Alabama and Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes put up 40+ points in both games.
Rodemaker has an advantage that Jones did not thanks to his previous experience as a starter and playing in a tough, competitive road setting. But Seminoles fans are also aware of their own history with this situation.
In mid-November during the 1998 season, a neck injury to FSU starting quarterback Chris Weinke impacted what many believe was a team set to win a national championship. Weinke's backup was Marcus Outzen, affectionally nicknamed "The Rooster" thanks to his red hair and flattop cut. While he was effective enough in his first bit of action against Wake Forest, it was his performance against rival Florida in the regular-season finale that secured Florida State's spot in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game.
Outzen was sacked six times but pulled out a win over the Gators, who were ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. Legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden credited his ability as a runner to helping the offense, noting that "he played within himself and did the things he can do." Florida State then got a terrific effort from Outzen in the national championship game loss to Tennessee, but ultimately the Seminoles quarterback finished the game completing 9 of 22 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions in the 23-16 loss.
Some of the consternation about whether Florida State would have won it all with Weinke was dampened when the Seminoles returned to the BCS National Championship Game following the 1999 season. With Weinke back as starter and Outzen his backup, the 'Noles claimed their second national title in program history. Outzen is rightly celebrated for his effort, as Rodemaker might be as well, but Florida State fans are hoping he can fall more in line with the Cardale Jones storyline.
Playoff selection committee taking note
While we can point to the odds and declare the chances of Florida State making the playoff to be a 50-50 proposition, with one path leading to the Seminoles celebrating their backup quarterback and the other leading to a lot of "what if" conversation in the offseason, there is a human element that must be acknowledged. Florida State needs to impress a committee of 13 individuals tasked with picking the College Football Playoff field. That's going to require the Seminoles to prove they are among the four best teams in the country, even without Travis.
CFP committee chair Boo Corrigan pointed out that FSU did go on to score 58 unanswered points after Travis went down. He didn't mention North Alabama because it could belittle the point, of course, but it's still accurate in that the Seminoles, as a team, did not crumble when met with the one-two punch of unexpected adversity from an FCS opponent and losing your star quarterback to a gruesome injury. Corrigan also said the committee would "close the books here in a little bit on Week 12 and then move on to to Week 13" to see how the Seminoles play against Florida.
Both Cardale Jones and Marcus Outzen stepped in and kept their teams in the national championship hunt when called upon. For right now, that's the only thing that matters for Tate Rodemaker and Florida State. It may be a 50-50 proposition that the Seminoles make the College Football Playoff right now, but if Rodemaker can come up on the right side of enough 50-50 plays on Saturday night against Florida, the odds will improve significantly.