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FSU losing defensive end Jalen Wilkerson to NFL a year early

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With the college football season now officially behind us, the focus will continue to shift on who will be coming back in 2018. Florida State defensive end Jalen Wilkerson will not be playing on Saturdays next fall. He is now officially ready to try landing a job in the NFL.

Wilkerson announced his decision to turn pro with a bried message on Twitter, in which he tahked Florida State fans for the support during his time in Tallahassee.

Wilkerson’s decision to enter the NFL Draft this spring comes as a mild surprise, but given his size and potential, a good showing at the scouting combine or at a pro day and private workouts could give him enough of a boost to make the jump to the NFL worth it.

Wilkerson ended the 2017 season having recorded 19 tackles in 13 games, including six tackles for a loss. Wilkerson came to Floriuda State to play tight end for the Noles after being recruited as a four-star prospect at the position, but he made the conversion to defensive end to help pad some depth on the roster. It will be interesting to see if any NFL team contemplates trying him out at tight end leading up to the draft. Having that flexibility may come in handy at some point as Wilkerson looks to impress scouts moving forward.

Helmet sticker to Tomahawk Nation.

TE Ryan Izzo exits Florida State, enters NFL draft

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The list of early entrants continues to grow, with Florida State (again) the latest to experience this annual attrition.

While certainly not the most recognizable name on the roster, Ryan Izzo has seen his time in Tallahassee come to an end as the tight end confirmed Wednesday that he’s spurning his remaining eligibility in order to enter this year’s NFL draft.  FSU released the following statement attributed to Izzo:

After lots of thought and careful consideration, I have decided to forgo my senior season and chase my dream of playing in the NFL. I would like to thank Coach Jimbo and Coach Brewster for giving me the opportunity to be a Seminole. I would also like to thank God for all his blessings, and my family and friends for all their love and support. Lastly, thank you to Nole Nation for all of your non-stop support. We have the best fans in the country, period! Florida State gave me an amazing four years and I will forever be NoleBlooded!!!

Head coach Jimbo Fisher, mentioned in the statement, left FSU to take the same job at Texas A&M while tight ends coach Tim Brewster, mentioned as well, followed his boss to College Station.

Izzo was second on the forward pass-challenged Seminoles with three receiving touchdowns and third in receiving yards with 317.  His 20 receptions were fourth on the team.

The 6-5, 250-pound redshirt junior finished his FSU career with 54 catches for 761 yards and six touchdowns.

Florida State avoids worst season since 1976 with Independence Bowl rout of Southern Miss

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Florida State can officially breathe a historical sigh of relief.

Southern Miss scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the 2017 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, taking an early 6-0 lead on FSU following a missed point after attempt.  That would be as good as it got for the Conference USA school as their ACC foes scored the next 33 points en route to 42-13 win.

The Seminoles came into the game 6-6 and needed a win to avoid finishing a season with a sub-.500 record for the first time since 1976.  That year’s ‘Noles team finished 5-6 in Bobby Bowden‘s first season in Tallahassee.  This does, though, mark the fourth time in the last dozen years that FSU has finished a season 7-6.

Freshman James Blackman played a significant role in this win, their fourth in a row, throwing a career-high four touchdown passes.  That number also set the single-game Independence Bowl record.

Three of those touchdown passes went to Auden Tate, tying a single-game record for the bowl game.

There was one other personal accomplishment as Cam Akers, on a third-quarter carry, broke Dalvin Cook‘s single-season freshman rushing record of 1,007 yards.  Akers now has 1,024 yards on the season after rushing for 94 in the win.

Longtime FSU defensive line coach Odell Haggins secured his second-ever career win as he served as the Seminoles’ interim head coach.  It was confirmed Tuesday that Haggins will be retained by new FSU head coach Willie Taggart.

In a losing effort, Golden Eagles quarterback Kwadra Griggs accounted for a pair of touchdowns, one passing and one rushing.  Ito Smith, who came into the game third in Conference USA in rushing with 1,321 yards, finished the day with 92 yards on 16 carries.

The Golden Eagles finished the year 8-5.

James Blackman’s three TD passes give Florida State halftime lead on Southern Miss in Independence Bowl

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Florida State is a mere 30 minutes away from officially avoiding its worst season in over four decades.

In an uneven (to say the least) first half of the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, a trio of James Blackman touchdown passes proved to be the difference as FSU has taken a 23-6 lead on Southern Miss (8-4) into the halftime locker room. The freshman hit Auden Tate for a 20-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter to give the Seminoles their first lead of the game, then connected with Cam Akers eight minutes later on a 14-yard catch and run that pushed the lead to seven.

A 29-yard Ricky Aguayo field goal midway through the second pushed the lead to double digits for the first time, while Blackman’s third scoring toss, this one to Tate from 10 yards out just with 1:33 left, accounted for the rest of the scoring in the half

Blackman finished the half completing 10-of-16 passes for 137 yards to go along with the touchdown passes.  He also added 27 yards rushing on five carries.  Akers, who is seven yards shy of breaking Dalvin Cook‘s school record for single-season rushing yards by a freshman (1,007),  led all ball carriers with 71 yards on the ground on nine carries.

The FSU defense held the Southern Miss defense to just 138 yards, with quarterback Kwadra Griggs‘ five-yard run accounting for the Golden Eagles’ only first-half points.

Especially early on, the game had the look of one in which neither team had played in a few weeks.

In the first quarter, Southern Miss was flagged four times for offsides while FSU was hit with a pair of 15-yard penalties, including roughing the punter, that greatly aided the Eagles on an opening drive that ended with a touchdown.  Additionally, both teams missed a point after attempt each.

Should the 6-6 Seminoles fail to hold their lead and lose, it would mark the first time since 1976 that FSU finished a season with a sub-.500 record.  That year’s ‘Noles team finished 5-6 in Bobby Bowden‘s first season in Tallahassee.

Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas won’t play in Independence Bowl

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Last one left in Tallahassee, please turn out the lights.

Interim Florida State coach Odell Haggins confirmed on Thursday that yet another Seminoles defender will not play in the Independence Bowl game against Southern Miss as linebacker Matthew Thomas is skipping the game to focus on the NFL Draft.

The departure of Thomas from the team isn’t too surprising as the former five-star recruit has had an up-and-down career with the program due to injuries. Still, he was one of the team’s best options at the position and will mean the extremely thin defense needs another player to step up in his absence for the final game of the season.

Thomas is the fourth player who won’t wear the FSU uniform one more time, as safety Derwin James, defensive end Josh Sweat and wide receiver Ermon Lane will all be skipping the contest as well. In addition, tight end Mavin Saunders will be a graduate transfer to Kansas.

Given how beat up the Seminoles were already this season, the lack of starters might make the Independence Bowl even more competitive than you would expect if you looked at the names on the front of the uniforms in the game.