TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Don’t blame Florida State’s seniors if they have a hard time picking a favorite memory from their games against the Florida Gators.
A pair of routs in Gainesville stand out, as does a 31-13 triumph in Tallahassee in 2016. The Seminoles have beaten the Gators in five consecutive seasons, and, during the four games that FSU’s fifth-year seniors have been a part of, Florida State has won by a combined score of 120-56.
“I mean, we beat them every year,” senior running back Jacques Patrick said, when asked for his favorite FSU-UF memory. “So (it’s) probably just the locker room, after the games, holding the gator head. Seeing the joy in everybody’s face.
“That’s something you never forget.”
The Seminoles (5-6) will look to add another happy memory at UF’s expense Saturday, when they host the No. 13 Gators (8-3) at noon inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
The 63rd meeting between Florida State and Florida promises the most intrigue the rivalry has had in several years. Or at least the most intrigue that didn’t involve a coaching change.
Florida State, of course, needs to beat UF to secure six wins and extend its NCAA-record bowl streak to 37 seasons.
And a win for the Gators would all but lock up a bid to New Year’s Six Bowl, no small feat for a team that has suffered two sub-.500 seasons in the six years.
“I’m excited about an opportunity this week to play our rival at home with something to play for,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “It’s always great when you can have a game like that.”
“If you’re on the winning side of it, it’s great to be on a long winning streak in rivalry games,” UF coach Dan Mullen told reporters at his Monday press conference. “If you’re on the losing side, it doesn’t feel good for you or your fans.
“So, we have to go try to start a new streak.”
Beyond just history – both recent and not-so-recent – the game might have broader implications for the future.
Both teams are in their first seasons under new coaching staffs. Both have had uneven campaigns – the Seminoles recently came out of a three-game losing streak, and UF, despite its record, has had to overcome double-digit deficits in two of its last three wins – and both are looking to quickly assert themselves in a state without a dominant “Big Three” program. (All due respect, of course, to UCF.)
National perception suggests that the Gators are a bit ahead in their rebuild. But an FSU victory would change that in a hurry.
And that’s to say nothing of any potential recruiting implications, particularly with the early signing period just a few weeks away.
No, beating UF wouldn’t give FSU a free pass on the recruiting trail. But it sure wouldn’t hurt.
“I wish it was that easy,” Taggart said. “We’re trying to find the right fit – what we’re looking for, and what they’re looking for, and hopefully it’s a great match.
“But winning helps.”
More immediately, a win over the Gators would ensure that Florida State’s seniors finish their careers with a win in their last home game and with a perfect record against UF.
The list of Seminoles to have done the latter is awfully short – only the classes of 1980, 1990, 2016 and 2017 have gone undefeated against the Gators.
No, not everything has gone according to plan for FSU’s senior class. No one who arrived in Tallahassee in 2014 or 2015 figured they’d be playing for a new head coach a few years later.
But beating Florida is a top priority, regardless of the year, regardless of the record and regardless of the coaching staff. FSU’s seniors have done it plenty. They want to do it one more time.
“That would mean the world, man,” said Patrick, an Orlando native. “I grew up in Florida, grew up watching Florida State, Florida, Miami, all these schools and Florida State. … It would be a huge thing for me, for all these seniors out here.
“To go 5-0 against the Gators,” fifth-year senior lineman Arthur Williams said, “man, that’s everything.”