The Florida State-Florida rivalry is nationally relevant again.
It has championship implications, big-time bowl possibilities and maybe even a Heisman Trophy contender. It hasn’t been that way very often since 2000.
And when the No. 14 Seminoles play at the 10th-ranked Gators on Saturday night, it will be just the third time in the last 15 years that both teams enter the in-state matchup ranked in the top 15.
With so much at stake, it raises the intensity in a series that was once considered one of the most significant in college football.
“Nothing needs to be said in our locker room,” Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “Those guys up the road, we don’t like them and they don’t like us. We feel like we’re the best team in the state. They feel like they’re the best team in the state. … They’re going to have to bring everything they’ve got in here.”
The Seminoles (9-2) have won four of the last five meetings, including two in a row in Gainesville.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook wasn’t around for either of those road games, but he’s expected to be a pivotal figure in this one. The sophomore is one of the most dynamic backs in the country. He has the program’s single-season rushing record and could make a case for being in the Heisman race with a big game against the Gators.
Then again, the Seminoles have scored just six offensive touchdowns in four road games this season, with half of those coming on runs by Cook. And Florida could pose problems considering its defense ranks third in the nation in scoring and sixth in yards allowed.
“Anybody we go against, if we play the way that we should play, we’ll dominate him,” safety Keanu Neal said.
The Gators (10-1) haven’t dominated anyone in November. They needed a late field goal to beat inept Vanderbilt on homecoming. They got a late touchdown to hold off struggling South Carolina on the road the following week. And they had to have a touchdown in overtime and then a fourth-down stop to defeat Florida Atlantic last week.
“I’m sure they probably feel like they’ll jump in the Swamp and have a pretty good chance of beating us based on how we’ve been playing,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “That’s fine. We’ll be here, our fans will be here and we’ll be ready to play this game and see what happens.”
Florida needs a win to maintain an outside shot at earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the Gators (No. 12 CFP) beat FSU (No. 13 CFP) and then win the SEC title game next week in Atlanta, they might make a big enough jump to earn a playoff berth. A victory against the Seminoles also would make Florida a virtual lock for the Sugar Bowl regardless of what happens in the league title game.
FSU, out of the running in the Atlantic Coast Conference, needs a win to stay in the hunt for the Fiesta Bowl or the Peach Bowl.
Here are some other things to know about Florida State and Florida heading into their 60th meeting:
WOE LINES: Florida could be without four starting linemen and several backups. Defensive tackle Jon Bullard (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (foot) are considered doubtful to play, and center Cam Dillard (leg) and guard Martez Ivey (shoulder) are questionable. Reserve defensive linemen Joey Ivie, Thomas Holley, Jordan Sherit and Taven Bryan also might not go.
KICKING DIFFERENCE: If it comes down to a field goal, the Seminoles have a decided advantage. Roberto Aguayo has missed eight field goals in three seasons. Florida’s Austin Hardin has missed six this year. Hardin missed an extra point and two short field goals last week against Florida Atlantic. Aguayo has made all 44 attempts of 40 yards or less.
SENIOR DAY AGAIN: Florida has 10 scholarship players taking part in “senior day.” For tight end Jake McGee, this will be his third. His first senior day came at Virginia in 2013. He went through ceremonies again last year as a graduate transfer at Florida. But after breaking his leg and getting a sixth year of eligibility, McGee is getting a third one. “Hopefully I don’t cry,” McGee said. “I don’t expect to, but if I do, you guys can get on me a little bit.”
UPSET ALERT? The higher ranked team has won each of the last 10 games in the series.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.