ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — When LSU and Florida State played in New Orleans a year ago, no one really knew how good either would be.
The Tigers were coming off their first losing season since 1999 and beginning the Brian Kelly Era in Baton Rouge. The Seminoles, meanwhile, had missed consecutive bowl games for the first time since Bobby Bowden’s debut season (1976) and weren’t sure coach Mike Norvell was the right guy in Tallahassee.
It’s safe to say there are far fewer questions 12 months later. Maybe the most important one: Will either team win it all in 2023?
The fifth-ranked Tigers and eighth-ranked Seminoles — who played a 24-23 thriller that Florida State won in the Superdome last September — might provide some insight during their rematch Sunday night in Orlando. The only Top 25 pairing in college football's Week 1 is a prime-time affair that features two star-filled teams that believe they have a legitimate shot at unseating two-time defending national champion Georgia.
“It’s going to be a heck of a matchup,” Norvell said. “It’s going to have a championship-type feel to it just because you have two teams that have experience and I think are really talented.”
LSU finished 10-4 in Kelly’s first season, closing with a 63-7 romp against Purdue in the Citrus Bowl. Florida State went 10-3 in Norvell’s fourth season, ending with a six-game winning streak and a 35-32 victory over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Both bowl winners return to Camping World Stadium eight months later with eyes on a bigger prize: the College Football Playoff. LSU is a 2 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“You might be looking at two teams that mirror each other in a lot of ways,” Kelly said. “So pretty exciting when you talk about a top-10 matchup and two teams that have been putting a lot of playmakers on the field.”
None under more scrutiny than the quarterbacks, two of the top three preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
LSU’s Jayden Daniels, a former Arizona State transfer who has started 43 games, set school records for rushing yards (875) and rushing touchdowns (11) by a quarterback last year. He was one of only two QBs in the Football Bowl Subdivision to run for at least 800 yards and throw for at least 2,500 more.
Florida State's Jordan Travis became the program’s fourth player with at least 3,000 total yards and 30 total touchdowns in 2022. He joined Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward (1993), Chris Weinke (2000) and Jameis Winston (2013) in that exclusive club.
“Two great quarterbacks, two elite quarterbacks that can make things happen,” Kelly said. “Two guys that can run, can throw, elusive.”
The duo put on a show last year in New Orleans.
Daniels accounted for 323 yards and three TDs, including two passing scores in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a chance before Shyheim Brown blocked an extra point. Travis threw for 260 yards and two scores and added 31 yards rushing.
Now, much like their teams, everyone is expecting more.
“He’s put himself in a position to have the best year he’s had,” Norvell said of Travis. “Definitely is a special, special player.”
LSU boasts linebacker Harold Perkins, defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo and receiver Malik Nabers. FSU has pass rusher Jared Verse, cornerback Fentrell Cypress, defensive tackle Fabien Lovett and receivers Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman.
Travis, Wilson and, most notably, Verse returned for a chance to win a title that’s been mostly a pipe dream in Tallahassee for the last decade.
“After the season last year, we felt like, ‘Dang, that’s what it feels like to win? We can do this all the time,’” defensive back and fifth-year senior Jarrian Jones said. “Just bringing (everyone) back to have one more year and really do this thing the right way, I feel like that’s big.”
LSU will be without defensive tackle Maason Smith (NCAA suspension) and running back John Emery (undisclosed injury). FSU won't have receiver Ja’Khi Douglas (undisclosed injury) and defensive tackle Darrell Jackson Jr. (NCAA ruling).
THIS AND THAT
Florida State has won eight of 10 against LSU, including five in a row. … Kelly’s teams have won at least 10 games for six consecutive seasons, trailing only Alabama’s Nick Saban (15) and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (12). … The Seminoles are 10-0-2 in Orlando, winning nine in a row in the city that’s a four-hour drive from home. … FSU scored at least 35 points in its final six games last season, the longest streak in the nation entering 2023.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll