Let the trash talking begin. This is college football rivalry week. Forget the notion about the only important thing on the calendar is Thanksgiving. College football is a religion in some parts of the country and alumni and fans take their sports seriously. And in this part of Florida (the northern section of the state) nothing compares to Florida and Florida State getting together on the Saturday after Turkey Day and throwing the pigskin around for four quarters.
Off course, there are other games on tap throughout the weekend, but in terms of the state’s bragging rights, it does not get much better than this.
Will Florida’s offense finally awaken to score on the speedy defense of the Seminoles? Can FSU and running back Dalvin Cook run on the front seven of the Gators’ line? And how will Jim McElwain handle the pressures that come with playing such a monumental game like this, where both teams are nationally ranked, the Gators with an outside shot at the CFP and the Seminoles still in the hunt for a New Year’s Day bowl game?
To say this is one of the most important games in the rivalry in some time is the biggest understatement I can make. And it would poo-pooed by many a fan on either sides of the ball.
As Gary Smits of the Florida Times-Union explained, there really is more to this game than just bragging rights.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, whose team dispatched Chattanooga 52-13, would be shocked if either side came into the game without the emotion and resolve a storied rivalry produces.
“It’s Florida-Florida State, and if that’s not enough, then we got problems,” he said.
Smits knows a thing or two about this rivalry, having covered local and state sports here in Jacksonville for quite a number of years.
While Fisher’s Seminoles found a rhythm last week, the Gators offense can barely score and relies heavily on the defense to stop its opponent.
“Florida is 10-1, nearly matching the entire victory total of the previous two seasons (11). UF already has clinched the SEC East and will play Alabama or Ole Miss in the SEC championship on Dec. 5,” Smits said.
Smits differs in my opinion that the Gators are not likely to make the College Football Playoff by beating the Seminoles and then capturing the SEC title, the latter would still land them in the Sugar Bowl, win or lose against FSU.
We shall see what happens.
The first game in the Florida–Florida State series was played in 1958. Florida leads the series 34–23–2. The Gators dominated the series before Bobby Bowden’s arrival, but the rivalry has become remarkably balanced since then. The series is tied 4–4 over the past eight meetings, 11–11–1 over the past 23 meetings, and 21–21–1 since 1974. For the past three decades, one or both squads have usually been highly ranked coming into the game, adding national championship implications to a rivalry already heavily weighted with in-state bragging rights.
From 1990 to 2000, every meeting featured both schools being ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press rankings, and the winner would go on to compete in the national championship game in six of those seasons (1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000).
I am of a generation that went to college in the early 1990s when Orange and Blue and Garnet and Gold ruled the football landscape. I have to include the Orange and Green of Miami as well because they too were as dominant as the teams coached by both Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden. Now, with Fisher and McElwain on the sidelines, a whole new generation of fans watch with the same zest that I did as a student and fan. And this rivalry, no matter who might be on the sideline, is still crucial to the outcome of which lead lands where when bowl invitations come out.
The keys to the success of this game are simple. If Florida plays smothering defense and Treon Harris can find his mojo in the passing game, Florida can win this game. If Florida State can run the ball at will, with a heavy dose of Cook and a balance on defense, then FSU should be able to walk into Gainesville and pull out the victory.