Nov. 17, 2000
By EDDIE PELLS
AP Sports Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Before the start of each season, Steve
Spurrier gives the Florida Gators a list of goals. This season, the list was different.
Florida State was the only opponent with its own, special entry.
“At the beginning of the year, I’d say this game was the one we most
wanted to win,” Gators quarterback Jesse Palmer said.
There’s nothing new in the fact that No. 4 Florida (9-1) and No. 3
Florida State (10-1) each come into Saturday’s game with a chance to reach the national title game.
What is new is that the Gators have lost two straight against their
in-state rivals. That doesn’t sit well with Spurrier, who is 0-4-1 in Tallahassee and stands as the only coach in Gators history without a victory at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“We probably do need to pay a little more attention to them than we
have in the past,” Spurrier said at the beginning of the season.
Slowly but surely as the season has progressed, new plays have been
added to the Gators’ playbook. The reminders from the coaches are constant: This one could be the one that helps us beat Florida State.
It’s something of a change for a program that has always valued winning
the Southeastern Conference over all else. Spurrier normally lists Georgia and Tennessee on his list of preseason goals, but this year he subbed those out with “Win SEC East.” The Gators accomplished that mission for the seventh time this year.
Florida State has always been of secondary importance because that’s a
game with national title implications, and Spurrier has always felt it’s a long shot to win a national championship coming out of the SEC.
But at some point, losing to your main in-state rival has to stop, and
Spurrier took some steps to address it.
“This is the team we most badly want to beat,” said Palmer, who will
split time with Rex Grossman at quarterback, “because it’s a grudge match. We haven’t won the last two years. We haven’t won at Doak in a long time.”
That could be because Florida State has always seemed to put more value
on this game. The Seminoles have always considered Florida and Miami the two most important opponents on their schedule. Meanwhile, they have won the Atlantic Coast Conference every time since they joined in 1992, breezing through it in most seasons.
Gators fans criticize Bobby Bowden’s program for not facing the same
week-in, week-out pressure in the ACC that Spurrier’s team sees in the SEC.
That point is debatable, but what’s not up for argument is that the Seminoles have always done a good job keeping the Florida game on their radar.
“Naturally, when you’re playing Wake Forest, your mind is also thinking
about Florida,” Bowden said.
“It’s a big rivalry,” Seminoles receiver Snoop Minnis said. “We just
get up for Florida more than we get up for any other team. I think it’s because of the rivalry and the pride.”
Of course, it’s usually more than just pride on the line when these
teams meet. The Bowl Championship Series formula still has to play itself out, but the winner here will be in the thick of the chase for a spot in the Orange Bowl.
The losers: They’re out of the picture.
Not even an SEC title can change that.
“They have beaten us the last two years, and they’re up on us a little
bit,” Spurrier said. “We need to beat those guys.”