Getty Images

The whirlwind hit Jordan Travis right between the eyes -- the ones he could barely keep open the early morning of Feb. 6. When Florida State's quarterback pulled into his driveway at 4:30 a.m., the exhaustion weighed on him like a 300-pound defensive lineman.

In the space of less than 40 hours he had been whisked cross country in a private plane to the Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona -- courtesy of an NIL benefactor -- rubbing elbows with celebrities and athletes before flying right back to Tallahassee, Florida, in time for … what?

"Sociological Theory," Travis recalled of that first-thing-Monday class. "It's a tough class, especially to sit through."

So he didn't. The leader of the Seminoles' breakthrough 2022 season -- a Heisman Trophy hopeful and tireless worker aiming to lead one of the best stories of the season -- deserved to sleep in this once.

He couldn't be blamed.

Already holder of a bachelor degree when he graduated last May with Jameis Winston (among others), Travis had earned the trip. It was a brief glimpse at the NFL's biggest party after turning around FSU and his own career last season.

He couldn't be excused, either.

"I had to do bear crawls," Travis told CBS Sports of his punishment for missing class.

The quarterback smiled the whole time as he crawled length of the field and back at the command of coach Mike Norvell. It was Travis' way of telling his coach that nothing would break him.

"I irritate [Norvell] a little bit because I'm always smiling," Travis recalled. "He doesn't watch many people do bear crawls. But he wanted to watch me. I just sat there with a smile on my face every single yard I did."

Norvell got it. He knew what was happening but still needed to enforce the accountability factor. If he gave the star quarterback any slack, well, that can lead to all kinds of problems. And there had been plenty of problems at Florida State.

Last year's 10-win season was the FSU's first since 2016. It came after four consecutive losing campaigns. It came after Travis had thrown all of 14 passes for Bobby Petrino as a freshman in 2018 at Louisville before finding his way to Tally via the transfer portal.

It came after a three-interception game against Notre Dame in 2021. It came after beating Miami that same season by a converting a fourth-and-14 in the final minute that led to the winning score. It came after a midseason three-game losing streak in 2022. It came after injuries, criticism and enough social media vitriol to melt steel.

"What he's been through made him stronger from the boos and the haters," said Jordan's father, Tony Travis.

Jordan Travis has grown up as a person and player while bearing the additional burden of the biggest question this side of Austin, Texas. Forget Longhorns for the moment. Are the Seminoles back?

After that breakthrough 2022 season, there are reasons to believe.

The No. 8 ranking in the Preseason AP Top 25 is Florida State's highest since 2016. Norvell has settled in nicely after fighting through some hiccups now entering Year 4.

The 'Noles just might have the two best players on either side of the ball. Edge rusher Jared Verse, a transfer from Albany and 2023 CBS Sports Preseason All-America first team selection, will be a national defensive player of the year candidate after posting nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season. Meanwhile, some are projecting Travis as the 2023 Heisman winner.

For the first time in his career, Travis threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2022. For the first time as a starter, he threw fewer than six interceptions in a season (five). It was a career year for a career than now enters Year 6.

That's what makes Travis unique. In modern college football, quarterbacks aren't usually given five years to develop. Before the added COVID-19 eligibility year, they usually didn't have five years period. The game, the coaches, the fans don't want to wait.

Travis is an example of what happens when you're just getting started at age 23.

"Last year, that was his first year being the starter no matter what happened," current FSU offensive coordinator Alex Atkins said. "Last year, he could throw eight picks and he was going trot his ass back on that field."

Atkins continued: "But [during his career], Jordan had to show consistency. He had to. He started '21 as the starter. In '20, he was starting quarterback when we beat North Carolina. He's always been there but [there was] injury, decision-making and consistency throwing the ball.

"He is a true product of development."

There's nothing wrong with that if you've got half a decade to spare. But if half the Heisman race is the narrative, maybe Travis should be the early favorite.

He went from never fitting in to owning the town. He went from offering his coaches a position switch just to get on the field to going for 468 total yards against Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Thirty-eight career games, 27 career starts. He has gone through four head coaches, five offensive coordinators. He scraped the bottom and can see the top if Florida State -- as many predict -- supplants Clemson atop the ACC and returns to a New Year's Six bowl -- or better.

"Jordan needed someone to believe in him," Tony said.

Faith from those folks won out.

After that anonymous season at Louisville, Travis transferred to FSU under Willie Taggart in 2019. The coach was a disaster, lasting two seasons and leaving the roster in shambles. Travis barely saw more action than he did at Louisville in a 6-7 FSU season.

Norvell arrived from Memphis in 2020. He was the first head coach who looked him in the eye and dealt with him individually. More importantly, Norvell brought with him a larger-than-life offensive coordinator, Kenny Dillingham.

Dillingham doesn't fill a room; he bounces off walls. Now leading the charge Arizona State, Dillingham lasted two seasons at FSU before going to Oregon for a season in 2022.

His relationship with Travis is destined to last a lifetime.

"What I went through before [the current staff] got here was pretty tough," Travis said. "Always moving around, being on scout team, going into a game for third-and-short, fourth-and-short. No matter what, they believed in me the whole time. They shut that down right away."

Travis was so unsure of himself he offered the new staff a position switch to receiver. That was quickly quashed when Norvell and Dillingham saw his potential.

Dillingham, now the youngest FBS head coach at 33, still has an active text chain with his former quarterbacks. He remains a true believer believer to the point Dillingham last season began retweeting the receipts -- haters who had ripped Travis in the past.

"I pretty much got there and said, 'This guy can win the Heisman,'" Dillingham recalled. "Everybody called me crazy."

Now, they're calling him prescient.

"God brought them into my life for a reason," Travis said.

Only four other 'Noles have accounted for 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns in a season. That Cheez-It Bowl performance had been surpassed by only four players in bowl games (400 passing, 50 rushing) since the turn of the century.

Travis is such an instinctive runner (417 yards last season) he is 20th on FSU's all-time rushing list. Only two other teams had more explosive plays of 20-plus yards last season (97 for Florida State), and that was only because Western Michigan and Georgia (with 98) played more games.

Travis' worth revealed itself inexorably. In a 24-21 loss to rival Florida in 2021, Travis battled through a right shoulder injury that twice caused him to leave the game. He then accounted for 138 yards and led two touchdown drives in a fourth-quarter rally that fell just short.

"We didn't downplay that," Norvell said.

That trend continued in a stunning Week 2 win against LSU last season but hit a speed bump in the first half of a brutal 34-28 loss to Clemson, which converted a Travis fumble in the first half for touchdown and went on to win for the seventh straight time in the series. However, Travis rallied again for 143 total yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in what was ultimately another late push that fell short.

While that was the back end of Florida State's three-game losing streak that came by a total of 18 points, a ray of light showed through.

"That North Carolina State game [a 19-17 loss the week prior to the Clemson defeat], if that had happened to me three years ago, I probably would have put myself in a ditch," Travis said. "Right after that game, I got back on the plane, head held high. It helped this team turn the season around."

Atkins added: "When we were the worst, he was still the most dynamic player on the field."

Travis' tight circle of support includes brother Devon, 10 years older, who played baseball at FSU and four seasons in the majors. Jordan was the best man in his wedding. Tony spent decades as a detective in Palm Beach.

Former FSU teammate James Blackmon was a high school rival.

"Blackmon actually protected Jordan," Tony recalled. "We played over in Belle Glade. Jordan was scrambling running down the sideline. Those kids at Belle Glade are big and fast. They knocked him into their bench. Their players jumped over Jordan and were screaming and pointing in his face. Blackmon reached in and picked him saying, 'You don't this kid this way.'

"That helped him."

While they were battling each other for the job, Travis became close with former QB McKenzie Milton. Milton had rebounded from a crippling leg injury. Travis was seemingly recovering from some kind of slight each day.

"Jordan needed someone to believe in him. That's what he was missing," Tony repeated.

So, when the issue of bear crawls comes up, there had to be accountability. Travis had to be strong because his teammates look to him now -- not as the guy who can't get it done but the one who holds the program together.  

"I've been here six years," Travis said. "Guys expect me to take time off, take some workouts off. I've always been a guy that wants to work. I feel you earn your teammates respect through work. If they see me take off, they feel like they can take off."

In the end, sometimes you have to bear crawl to the top.

"I think college football wants for us to be good," Atkins said. "I think college football is just hopeful that Florida State is in the top 10. Every college football fan grew up with FSU in the top 10. It's just uneasy when they're not.

"And everybody loves a comeback story."