There was a time, long ago, back when Game Boy was big and the Chicago Bulls were good, back when the hate was real and the heat was really intense, that Florida vs. FSU was can’t-miss-TV.
But only if your eyes could take the venom.
That was the 1990s, when the two teams NEVER played each other on the outside of the Top 10 looking in.
Since Steve Spurrier left Florida, there have been more games where the two teams were unranked than both ranked in the Top 10, which used to be the autumn home for each program.
For the last couple of decades, one side or the other has been dealing with adversity, and that is certainly the case Saturday night. Much to the chagrin of Florida fans, FSU uncoupled itself from Willie Taggart just as abruptly as Florida did Jim McElwain two years earlier.
(McElwain’s biggest issue wasn’t that he couldn’t beat FSU — he couldn’t — but it was an issue).
All of this is about as relevant as how your fantasy team did last week or how you believe every red light is out to get you. Because the teams that hit the field tonight are this year’s teams weathered by a long season and not worried about the past.
Because FSU is 6-5 and unranked (and hasn’t been in the AP Top 25 since preseason of 2018), the game doesn’t have the national buzz. That buzz is turned down another notch by the fact that it really has no impact on everybody’s big present under the tree at Christmas, the College Football Playoffs.
But this is big. It’s really big for Florida. This has been a season of big games starting with Miami and now ending with the other limping state team.
I can give you 10 reasons. What can I say? I like lists.
1. The bowl thing.
Florida has a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl, which is a big deal. But the Gators can’t get there without beating FSU. UF would still need some things to work out with other results, but with a loss the Gators are doomed to a return to Camping World Stadium and the Chico’s Bail Bonds Citrus Bowl. Your words, not mine. Well, mine, too.
2. The state thing.
The three teams in the state who play in Power 5 conferences used to play all the time, but Florida and Miami rarely do now. So tonight is the only chance for a while a team has to win a state title. (FIU vouchers not accepted).
3. The neck thing.
This is not a visual I’m thrilled with, but there is an expression about having someone down and you “keep your foot on their neck.” I think you get the picture. This is Florida’s state right now. Don’t mess it up.
4. The progress thing.
Florida won nine games last year during the regular season. They could win 10 tonight with more injuries and a tougher schedule. That would be progress no matter what math you use.
5. The Swamp thing.
Look, there are 17 Florida players on the two deep who have NEVER lost to FSU in The Swamp because they haven’t played the Semis here. The streak of four straight wins in Gainesville is real, but it’s not this staff’s fault. Still, it needs to end.
6. The brand thing.
Florida has been steadily bringing it back to prominence. A win would be another step in the right direction. A loss would be a major stumble.
7. The next 364 days thing.
You probably have one, maybe in your family. You don’t want to hear it.
8. The seniors thing.
Senior Day is about going out the right way as much as anything. There are a few fifth-year seniors who have won 42 games as Gators. That’s not too shabby. They’d like No. 43 on Saturday night.
9. That record thing.
OK, I hate that cliche about throwing the records out the window because you are what your record is. Because of their records, Florida is an 18-point favorite. Florida has the better team.
10. It’s FSU.
And that’s all you need to know. You get into deep discussions over lite beers over which team is Florida’s biggest rival. And you argue for the importance of winning the SEC. But how many derisive nicknames do you have for the school out west? Just as I thought. It’s FSU.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.