TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – They’ve been through more than their share of valleys, they’ve seen their head coach fired and they know that their time together will be over in a little more than a month.
It hasn’t been an easy road for the 2019 Florida State football team, but it is a road that has at least one more shot at a significant measure of satisfaction.
That will come on Saturday, when the Seminoles visit No. 8 Florida (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
The Gators are 9-2, are undefeated at home this season and seem to be in the midst of an upswing in coach Dan Mullen’s second year.
Between UF’s success and an FSU program that has set its sights on the future, oddsmakers have no surprise established the Gators as a heavy favorite to win their second consecutive over the Seminoles, as well as to beat Florida State in Gainesville for the first time since 2009.
Do that, and they’ll have won 10 games for a second straight season and will potentially be off to a New Year’s Six Bowl.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, despite all they’ve been through, are embracing the opportunity to deny the Gators that pleasure.
“They’re ranked pretty high and all that, so we’re going to try to spoil their little good season they’re having this year,” FSU lineman Cole Minshew said. “That’s one you always look forward to. That’s one you always check on the calendar.”
Since the Bobby Bowden era began in 1976, meetings between an unranked FSU and a ranked Florida have been rare. It’s only happened six times – 2019, 2009, 2007, 2006, 1983 and 1976 – and each time produced a UF victory.
So this year’s Seminoles don’t exactly have a previous example on which they can rally around.
Then again, who’s to say they can’t create their own?
“This is a big game,” FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels III said. “For it to be the last game of our regular season, and for it to be a game that’s going to help us roll into next year.
“And it sets the tone This will be a great head start for us.”
Florida’s Mullen doesn’t expect an easy evening.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Mullen complimented FSU’s offensive skill-position players and said that preparing for a team that three weeks ago made a coaching change will be a challenge.
“Normally, this time of year, you’ll sit down and I’m sure everybody’s got their tendencies and this idea and that idea and you know what they’re going to do,” Mullen said. “And now they kind of … the head coach is always going to be influencing that. … Now there is probably going to be a little more of a drastic personality (change) because you’ve removed a coach who is not coming back.”
Indeed, three weeks ago Florida State’s opponents had no idea that the Seminoles had a capable dual-threat quarterback in Jordan Travis.
But in FSU’s last two games, Travis has run for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
That might be the most obvious change in the Seminoles’ attack, but it also might not be the only change. Couple that with an open date that gave interim coach Odell Haggins and his staff two weeks to prepare, and it’s possible that the Seminoles who play in Gainesville could look more than a little different than the ones from September and October.
“What you try to do is find just what is the different personality,” Mullen said. “What are they going to do differently? What’s the scheme that’s different? Are there different guys playing? Are they running a different rotation?”
Regardless of what formations or personnel they unveil on Saturday, Haggins’ chief concern is with the way the Seminoles prepare.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium can be one of the loudest venues in college football, but Haggins would rather his players turn their gaze inward – and not on the surrounding atmosphere.
“Focus on your fundamentals and technique and try to block out the rest of it,” he said. “We’re going to play loud music (to simulate crowd noise). But focus on your fundamentals and techniques, and everything else will take care of itself.”