The return of Mckenzie Milton: What does the former UCF star bring to Florida State?

QB Mckenzie Milton is ready to shine for Florida State

By: Tim Rodriguez

The world of college football was vastly different in 2017 than what we know now. There was no talk of super conferences. Any type of NIL deal seemed like a fairytale. The transfer portal was gaining steam but was nothing like it is in 2021. That season was fairly normal. The most out of the ordinary thing to happen then was brewing in Orlando, Florida. The University of Central Florida took the college football world by storm. Scott Frost’s bunch steamrolled their competition and found themselves sitting at 13-0 when the dust settled. In their bowl game, the Knights put away an Auburn team that had beaten both teams competing for the national championship. That’s when the trouble started. Being the only undefeated team in the country, as well as beating the team who put the only blemishes on Alabama and Georgia’s records, the Knights declared themselves “co-national champions” with the Crimson Tide

Was it weird and kind of desperate? Yes, but that should not take away from how special that UCF team was. Their lowest scoring games of the season were two 31 point performances. The captain of this ship was a 5-11 Sophomore out of Hawaii named Mckenzie Milton who simply dominated the AAC. Despite losing Frost and some key contributors, Milton was still playing well in 2018, regardless of the dip in his numbers. However, disaster struck on November 23rd. In a blowout win against state rival South Florida, Milton went down with one of the most gruesome leg injuries we had ever seen. Milton suffered ligament, nerve, and artery damage after dislocating his right knee. Almost three years later, Milton is back and in a position to win the starting job at Florida State

Now as a member of the Seminoles, the transfer quarterback finds himself next to a familiar face. Former AAC rival Mike Norvell made the move from Memphis and is set to begin his second season coaching the once-storied Seminoles. Norvell has seen firsthand what Milton can do. In three games vs Norvell’s Tigers, his new quarterback posted 961 yards and five touchdowns, to just three interceptions. Norvell’s Tigers lost all three matchups. Now, Milton looks to lead Norvell’s team to a bounce back season in the ACC, but first, he has to win the job. His competition, the uber-athletic Jordan Travis, will not go quietly and kiss the “ring”. Milton’s name may live in college football lore, but he has had to go out and compete every day for this starting job. While Milton is the favorite to win the job, nothing has been handed to him because of who he once was. 

How much is left?

The best part of Milton’s game was unquestionably his athleticism and ability to make “off-platform throws”. Upon watching two games of his 2018 film, it’s evident that a healthy Mckenzie Milton is a top-tier college football quarterback. The question just remains of how much of that athleticism is left. For a team that still has questions on the offensive line, his ability to play off-script would add a boost to an offense that sorely needs it. However, the most important thing that Milton brings with him to Tallahassee is an expansion of Mike Norvell’s playbook. 

With the combination of quarterbacks that FSU trotted out in 2020, the offense looked like a shell of itself compared to its time at Memphis. Norvell was unable to run his preferred form of offense with the Noles last season due to a lack of competent quarterback play. Jordan Travis struggles to hit the simple “gimme” throws and Chubba Purdy played like how you would expect a true freshman on a bad team to play. The addition of Mckenzie Milton allows Florida State to run RPO’s like Norvell always intended and can keep the quarterback run plays (Draws, zone reads, etc.) that they were running for Travis in 2020. An added bonus is that if Milton is the starter, Norvell can still use Travis in certain packages. 

Perhaps the best thing that Milton will bring to the Seminoles is simply a calming presence that comes with experience and maturity. Turning 24 this year and having faced adversity like few others, his experience, leadership, poise, and mentality will bring a new feel to a team in desperate need of some positivity. Almost three years ago, he was not entirely sure that he’d ever had both legs again, let alone play football. For him, this is the easy part. That poise and maturity were showed on the field as well though, before his injury. A perfect example is his 2018 game against Florida Atlantic. Early in the first quarter, Milton overshot his receiver on first and ten on a double-move that would have been an 80-yard touchdown. Most young quarterbacks would get down on themselves and start to press. Milton, however, stood calmly in the pocket on the next play and delivered a twenty-yard strike to his receiver. It was dropped but was a perfectly placed ball low to the ground to protect his target from an incoming hit. That’s the type of poise and professionalism that Florida State is getting in 2021 if Milton is the starter. 

Regardless of who takes the field under the bright lights of Doak Campbell Stadium when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to town, it’s more than just a game for Mckenzie Milton. September 5th is a culmination of everything he has spent most of the last three years working towards. When it appeared as if his dream was taken from him, Milton put his head down and did everything he could to become his old self again. While it remains to be seen what’s left of the former eighth place Heisman finalist put his head down and did everything possible to recapture the magic of his 2017. While it remains to be seen what he looks like, the last version we saw of him was miles better than the quarterback play that Florida State fans have been subjected to in recent memory.

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