TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Throughout the 2017 season, the Florida State football team has insisted that it is better than the sum of its record.
The Seminoles expect they’ll see the same from the Florida Gators.
Florida State and Florida enter Saturday’s Fresh From Florida Sunshine Showdown with identical 4-6 records, marking the first time that the Seminoles and Gators have met with sub-.500 marks since 1959.
Back then, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the color television was only six years old and the Beatles were still five years away from landing on U.S. soil.
But that doesn’t mean the stakes are low for the 62nd meeting between the two schools. In fact, in a bit of irony, this may be the most compelling FSU-UF matchup since at least 2014, when the Jameis Winston-led Seminoles were looking to polish off a second straight undefeated regular season and clinch a berth in the College Football Playoff.
This time around, FSU needs a win over the Gators to maintain hopes of bowl eligibility for a 36th straight season. Do that, and the Seminoles have a chance to finish with a winning record for the 41st consecutive year.
Those are each the longest active in streaks in the nation.
Florida, meanwhile, can play ultimate spoiler.
While Saturday marks the Gators’ regular season finale, UF can singlehandedly deal a massive blow to FSU’s bowl hopes (5-7 teams sometimes make the postseason, but it’s rare) while finishing its year on the best possible note.
Florida’s players can also use the FSU game as an audition for their new head coach – whoever that may be. The Gators fired coach Jim McElwain last month and have been linked to a number of high-profile candidates in the last few weeks.
So, even as a historical anomaly, there are still plenty of storylines and subplots to this year’s game.
“The records will go out the window, as they say, when it’s a rivalry game,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “(The Gators) are going to play the same type of game that they would play otherwise, because it’s a rivalry and that’s what this game means.”
Randy Shannon, the UF interim coach who also served as Miami’s head coach from 2007-10, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s always important when you play a state game. Anytime you play Miami-Florida State, Florida-Miami, Florida-Florida State, it’s always big,” Shannon said.
“It’s a game that you have bragging rights. … It’s not just one day, it’s the whole entire year. So it’s big, it’s big in recruiting and those are the things that you look forward to and being a chance to just be a part of.”
Florida State’s players, meanwhile, are carrying both momentum and motivation into Gainesville.
Momentum from a 77-6 rout of Delaware State on Saturday, a game in which the Seminoles did exactly what they were supposed to do against an overmatched opponent.
And motivation for all the obvious reasons.
Several Seminoles have said that they don’t want to be the team that lets FSU’s bowl and winning-season streaks slip away.
And, for that matter, they don’t want to be the team that allows the balance of power between the two schools to shift back toward Gainesville.
Domination over in-state rivals has been one of the hallmarks of Fisher’s tenure in Tallahassee: The Seminoles are a combined 13-2 against rivals Florida and Miami since 2010, which includes a 6-1 mark against the Gators.
No one on Florida State’s roster has ever lost to UF.
“This is the game of the year for us,” redshirt junior center Alex Eberle said. “The history in this rivalry speaks for itself. Florida is always a good team.”
Added junior safety Derwin James: “This is one of the reasons why you come to this university, to play in games like this. You always want to win this game, no matter what the record is. No matter how the season is going.”
James in particular is, well, chomping at the bit.
He’s only played once against the Gators, having been relegated to the sideline by a knee injury a year ago.
James’ hometown of Haines City is planted square in the middle of the Florida peninsula, and he grew up around FSU, Florida and Miami fans alike.
But James’ allegiances have been set for as long he can remember. He got his first Seminole-themed tattoo as a ninth-grader and never once wavered.
Like any FSU fan, James grew up with dreams of making plays against the Gators.
“I used to tell people all the time in the neighborhood, you know I’m going to be playing on TV one day,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes they would laugh. You know how some people are. … But I knew I was going to be here, and I’m here – finally playing in it.”