Who: No. 13 Florida (8-3) vs. Florida State (5-6)
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Vegas Line: Gators by 7
Series record: Florida leads 34-26-2.
When it comes to the streaks involved in this game, both the Gators and Seminoles are desperate. The Gators are desperate to end the Seminoles’ five-game winning streak in the rivalry, while the Seminoles are desperate to keep their bowl streak (36 consecutive years) alive. The UF players talked quite a bit about the losing streak to FSU this week. Junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said it was important to end it for the future of the program. The Seminoles sound even more desperate to keep their bowl streak alive. They have a chance now after coming from behind to beat Boston College last Saturday. A win today, and they’re bowling again. “There’s a lot of legends that carried on that streak, you don’t want to be a part of that team that ended it,” middle linebacker Dontavious Jackson said. “You’re letting a lot of legends down — the greats that played here. We want to fulfill that and keep the bowl streak alive.”
The Seminoles have made a bowl game every year since 1981. Even then, they went 6-5. They haven’t finished with a losing record since 1976, legendary coach Bobby Bowden’s inaugural season.
Florida has dropped five straight against FSU, meaning no one on coach Dan Mullen’s roster knows what it feels like to beat the ‘Noles. That’s one reason the Seminoles have been relatively confident despite getting blown out in three of their last four games.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Florida defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said. “We hear them boys talking, but we don’t talk. We talk with our pads, so we’ll see ’em on Saturday.”
Fear of food in Tally
All college football coaches are paranoid to some degree. But Urban Meyer might have been a little over the edge when it came to the UF-FSU rivalry when he was at Florida. According to some former players, Meyer didn’t want the players served team meals in Tallahassee for fear they would get food poisoning. “As coaches, we’re paranoid about everything. But you would hope that would not really happen,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “College football, man, they’re some passionate people about college football and about their teams. So we’re always cautious about everything going on.” With the early kickoff, the Gators ate their Friday night team meal in Gainesville before busing to Tallahassee. They’re eating snacks and breakfast in Tally this morning at the team hotel.
Keep an eye on Akers
Sophomore FSU running back Cam Akers is one of the most talented (and natural) runners in college football. But it’s been tough going for him this season behind a depleted and sometimes dysfunctional line. The Gators, however, are well-aware of his talent and the game-breaking ability he has. He definitely caught their attention with his performance in FSU’s 22-21 win over Boston College last Saturday. He broke out with his first 100-yard performance of the season, rushing for 110 yards and averaging 7.9 yards a carry. He set up a second-half TD with a 55-yard run. So, watch out for Cam today. He’s heating up.
What’s at Stake
Florida is hoping to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game, while the Seminoles are looking for a sixth straight win over the Gators. Florida State has played in a bowl in each season since 1982 and is looking to extend the streak. It’s a matchup of first-year coaches as Dan Mullen and Florida have met or exceeded expectations (picking up wins over ranked teams like LSU and Mississippi State) while Florida State has struggled.
Florida’s offensive front vs. Florida State junior defensive end Brian Burns:
The Gators have given up only 14 sacks all season, but the big guys up front will be facing their biggest challenge of the season in Burns, who is a game-changer with his ability to rush the quarterback and produce negative plays. Burns is running hot right now, with 14 sacks in the last 16 games. He has 10 sacks this season and 24 for his career. He’s also forced seven fumbles during his FSU career. “He might be the best pass-rusher we’ve seen all year,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “He’s got length, he’s got speed, he’s got size, can come off the edge, causes all kinds of problems for you. I don’t know that we’ve faced a pass-rusher like that this year. You’ve got to do some different things within your protection, you need to know where he is. You can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re just going to call our plays and we’ll leave him one-on-one all day long.’ He’s a guy you’ve got to know where he is on the field. He can disrupt the pass game that much.”
• Florida running backs vs. Florida State defensive front. Jordan Scarlett (629 yards, 6.2 yards per carry) and Lamical Perine (643 yards, 5.6 yards per carry) combine to form a ground attack that’s tough to stop. The Seminoles allowed 365 rushing yards in a loss to Notre Dame but bounced back to hold BC star A.J. Dillon to 116 yards on 37 carries last week.
Players to Watch
Florida: DE Jachai Polite. The junior defensive end has 8½ sacks, and a one more would give him the most for a Gators player since Carlos Dunlap had nine in 2009. Polite also has forced four fumbles, which is tied for the FBS lead and his 90.3 pass rush grade is second among FBS edge players, according to Pro Football Focus.
Florida State: WR Tamorrion Terry leads the ACC with eight touchdown receptions, which is one shy of the freshman record (Greg Carr had nine in 2005). The 6-foot-4 Terry had the game-winning 74-yard touchdown reception in the win over BC last week. He has 32 receptions and his 666 receiving yards is a program record for a freshman.
Mullen vs. FSU
Mullen is 4-0 against the Seminoles, winning all four meetings while serving as the team’s offensive coordinator (2005-08). The Gators outscored FSU by an average of 36-12 in those games.
Both teams feature first-year coaches for the first time since 1960, when Ray Graves began a 10-year tenure at Florida and Bill Peterson started an 11-year stint with Florida State. The Gators won that one 3-0 on Sept. 24, 1960.
The Seminoles have won 15 consecutive non-conference games at home, the ninth-longest active streak among Power 5 programs. FSU’s last non-conference loss came against Florida, a 37-26 setback on Nov. 24, 2012.
The Gators have widely been hailed for rebounding from last year’s 4-7 debacle. But consider this: Florida needed trick plays to beat Mississippi State and LSU, and had to rally from deficits of 18 and 17 points, respectively, to defeat Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Throw in lopsided losses to Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri, and Florida should consider itself lucky to be on the verge of a major bowl berth.
Facts & Figures
Florida State’s five straight wins in the series is the most ever by the Seminoles. The Gators’ 21 takeaways are tied for 17th nationally, and they have scored 64 points off those turnovers. Florida QB Feleipe Franks was intercepted three times in 2017 against Florida State, which returned one for a touchdown in a 38-22 win over the Gators. Florida State QB Deondre Francois ranks second in the ACC in passing yardage (2,577) but hasn’t completed 50 percent of his passes in his last three starts.
Today’s game questions
• Can the offensive line protect quarterback Feleipe Franks?
• Will the Gators be able to establish the run against what has been a suspect FSU run defense?
• Can the Florida secondary prevent explosive plays in the passing game?
• Will Florida’s defensive line generate consistent pressure against FSU quarterback Deondre Francois?
• Who wins the battle of special teams?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Florida State 31, Florida 17
(Season record: 6-5)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.