No. 4 Florida State heads to ACC title game looking to add to ‘Sod Cemetery’ and ‘finish for 13’


Kneeling in the south end zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida State running back Trey Benson tried to cut out a chunk of grass with scissors. It wasn’t working on the orange-painted turf, so teammate Jared Verse stepped in to help.

Together, and despite a police officer trying to dissuade them from finishing the task, they found success with their bare hands. They ripped out a keepsake destined for the program’s famed “Sod Cemetery” in Tallahassee.

It could be the first of several souvenirs for the fourth-ranked Seminoles (12-0) over the next month.

Nearly a year after several key players opted to stay in school and chase championships — Verse and star quarterback Jordan Travis led the way — FSU is on the verge of another one. The ‘Noles will play No. 15 Louisville (10-2) in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Florida State has a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line, and even with Travis now a spectator because of a gruesome left leg injury sustained in the team’s home finale Nov. 18, players and coaches refuse to settle for anything less. They have even embraced a “finish for 13” mantra that is a shoutout to Travis’ jersey number and all he has done for the program.

“It means a lot,” Verse said. “The whole season, 11 games, he was there every step of the way. … He’s still there. It means so much for us to go out there and put on (a show) for him. We gave everything we had. I feel like everybody hit another mental gear, another physical gear, that we don’t talk about enough. That’s what we’re capable of.

“After the game, you look him in the eyes and we’re like, ‘Hey, we did that for you.’ He’s smiling and just feels genuine joy. Even though he wasn’t on the field with us, he was still there.”

Travis really got FSU’s special season started last December when he announced he would return for a sixth year, the last five in Tallahassee after beginning his college career at Louisville. Standout receiver Johnny Wilson made a similar announcement the following day and then Benson joined them two days later.

Verse waited until January to declare his intentions. A first-team All-ACC selection after leading Florida State with 14 1/2 tackles for loss in 2022, including 7 1/2 sacks, Verse turned down NFL millions to run it back with teammates.

All those guys surely helped coach Mike Norvell land stud transfers like receiver Keon Coleman (Michigan State), tight end Jaheim Bell (South Carolina), defensive tackle Braden Fiske (Western Michigan) and cornerback Fentrell Cypress II (Virginia).

Now, the Seminoles have won 18 consecutive games and capped their seventh undefeated regular season with a 24-15 victory against Florida in the Swamp. It gave Norvell’s team a second “state championship” in as many years for beating both in-state rivals.

“It’s just an awesome opportunity that I’m real thankful for,” Fiske said. “That is why I came here. I came here to play in bigger games like this, and we’re undefeated now. … It’s unbelievable. Just got to keep this rolling.”

Added Verse: “I’ve been defeated; I ain’t never been undefeated.”

No one on the team has. It was just four years ago that Norvell took over one of college football’s laughingstocks. He lost 10 of his first 13 games with FSU and then slowly — and now suddenly — started to turn things by developing young talent and filling holes through the transfer portal.

He won three games in 2020, five in 2021, 10 in 2022 and now he has got the team playing for its first league title since 2014.

“It all goes to the players,” Norvell said Monday. “They’ve made the commitment. They put in the work. You can set a standard, but if people aren’t willing to push to the standard and hold themselves accountable to it. …

“Where do you go from here? There’s nothing to be satisfied with. You’re appreciative of the work you put in. But I want better, and these players want better. We want to see that next step to be taken. And this week you get to play in a conference championship. You win the game. All things are in front of you.”

Including more sod souvenirs.


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