EL PASO, Texas – Amidst a jam-packed schedule of activities in and around El Paso, the Florida State Seminoles haven’t lost sight of the reason they’re here: A game against the Arizona State Sun Devils, and the winning season that would come with a victory.
The game brings a bit of intrigue for FSU. Games against the Pac-12 are rare for the Seminoles – this will be their first since the 2015 Rose Bowl – and games against Arizona State even more so.
Tuesday’s game will be the fifth meeting of the Seminoles and Sun Devils, and first since 1984.
“They’re a sound football team,” FSU interim coach Odell Haggins said. “They’ve got a good quarterback, very good skill position guys, their receivers are good. And, defensively, they run to the ball. They get a lot of turnovers.”
Both teams will get a bit of a break thanks to the NFL draft. Cam Akers, FSU’s star running back, announced a few weeks ago that he would skip the Sun Bowl to prepare for his professional future.
But so, too, did his Arizona State counterpart, Eno Benjamin, and receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Which means that, as the Seminoles’ defense prepares for the Sun Devils, they’ll be preparing mostly for dynamic quarterback Jayden Daniels.
A true freshman, Daniels has thrown for 2,748 yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And he’s added another 319 yards and three scores on the ground. After Benjamin, Daniels is Arizona State’s leading rusher.
“He’s very poised, understands the offense,” FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said.
“He’s a good player,” FSU linebacker Leonard Warner III said. “Any mobile quarterback, you want to do a good job containing him and trying to keep hm in the pocket. I think we have a good plan for him.”
After departures, opportunity awaits younger Noles: With Akers and cornerback Stanford Samuels III having declared for the NFL draft – and reserve running back Khalan Laborn out with an injury – there are a few open spots on the Seminoles’ depth chart.
But there are also opportunities for young players to contribute. And maybe put on a good audition for new head coach Mike Norvell.
That’s particularly true at running back, where walk-ons Treshaun Ward and Deonté Sheffield are next in line.
Sheffield has carried nine times for 48 yards and a touchdown this season, while Ward has yet to record a collegiate touch.
“I think both those guys are extremely excited,” offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “Any time you haven’t had a chance to play much on a normal game week, and then especially in a bowl game you get an opportunity, shoot, you’re going to do everything you can to make sure you go out there and look good for your friends and family and your teammates.
“Those guys are definitely pumped up. Hopefully they play well.”
On the other side, Barnett expects to see more of Isaiah Bolden, A.J. Lytton and Akeem Dent in the wake of Samuels’ departure. All three of those defensive backs are in their first or second seasons.
“It’s an opportunity for … those types of guys to step out there and play some corner for us and do a good job,” Barnett said. “And we believe they will.”
OL Roberts soaks up final moments at FSU: Never mind the peaks and valleys, or that not every game went as planned.
As far as senior right tackle Ryan Roberts is concerned, his one season at Florida State was perfect.
A graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, Roberts was the only FSU offensive lineman to start every game. And he’s already thought about what it’s going to be like to start the last game.
“For me, it’s everything,” he said. “It’s the last go-round wearing garnet and gold. To go through the process of hitting the transfer portal, praying about it, making the decision to come here, it’s kind of the culminating moment of it all. The last time I get to put the spear on, it’s surreal.
“I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”
Turns out El Paso is a fine place for Roberts’ finale, too. His parents, despite living in Arizona, have come to each of Roberts’ games as a Seminole. And they’d have come to this one no matter the location.
Still, having a game just a little bit closer to home doesn’t hurt.
“This has been the best decision I could have ever made,” Roberts said. “I love every guy on this team. I’ve loved every coach I’ve had. I’ve loved every moment of getting to be a Florida State Seminole.”
Noles soak up sights – and snow – in El Paso: Robert Cooper’s favorite was a day spent at Fort Bliss.
Warner loved an evening with a famed hypnotist, one that made him a believer in the power of advanced focus.
And some Seminoles just enjoyed a surprise snow-flurry after dinner on Saturday night.
All told, seemingly everyone on the roster has found something to enjoy here in El Paso.
“Everything’s been just amazing,” Roberts said. “Getting to have a day with the troops and listening to them, hear what they go through, see what they do, it gives you an even greater appreciation for those who serve in the military and protect our country.”
While at Fort Bliss, which has stood since the mid-1800s, the Seminoles participated in combat and tactical simulators, then enjoyed a sit-down dinner with uniformed soldiers.
Later, a group of Sun Devils and Seminoles – including Gabe Nabers, DeCalon Brooks, Treshaun Ward and Ryan Fitzpatrick, participated in a hypnosis demonstration with hypnotist Doug MacCraw.
Warner wasn’t alone in his skepticism, but after seeing how the players – as well as some members of the audience – fell under MacCraw’s spell, he’s changed his tune.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) December 28, 2019
“I did not think that was real,” Warner said. “But I think it is now.”
And the Seminoles got a surprise on Saturday night when, after a western-themed day of boot-shopping and a visit to a ranch, they were greeted by a brief snow back at the team hotel.
Despite freezing temperatures and heavy winds, dozens of players enjoyed the rare sight and took photos for social media before finally heading inside.
“I saw snow for the first time yesterday,” Cooper said. “That was crazy.”