Florida State and Florida isn’t the oldest rivalry in college football. It is, however, one of the most important rivalries as far as the national landscape is concerned. Of the 58 times these teams have met, 21 have been when both teams are ranked. 14 of those have been Top-10 matchups, and 6 have been Top-5 matchups.
The rivalry has fallen off of late as each of the two teams have gone on streaks. Florida won 6 straight games between 2004-2009, but has fallen on hard times since. Florida State has responded by winning 3 of the last 4, and Florida State comes into this weekend’s game riding a 27 game winning streak and as the No. 3 team in the country. Florida comes limping in with a 6-4 record and a coach who will no longer be there after this game.
Florida State has seen this trick before when Ron Zook was coaching his last Florida game in 2004 and beat the Seminoles 20-13. Many are wondering if Will Muschamp can pull that feat off again.
There are a couple reasons to think that it can happen for Florida.
1. The Gators dominated rival Georgia in a game that no one had them winning. They ran for 418 yards on 60 attempts, but only threw six passes. Florida State has had trouble stopping the run this year giving up 175-plus rushing yards in 3 of the last 4 games.
2. They have nothing to lose. As I noted previously Will Muschamp is not coaching for his job. That’s already gone. Florida has already secured a bowl bid by getting to 6 wins. There is absolutely nothing keeping Muschamp from faking every punt and field goal and running trick plays.
However, there a quite a few reasons to think it wont happen.
1. Florida State has Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner has never lost a game he has started. He has continually pulled the Seminoles out of jam after jam, and until he proves otherwise it is unwise to bet against the Noles.
2. The running game is improving. Freshman Dalvin Cook has really come on lately averaging 7.8 yards per carry over the last 4 games. All of which have been in the Top-25 of the defensive F/+ rankings.
3. The offensive line is starting to gel. Florida State made a move to start true freshman offensive tackle Roderick Johnson at left tackle against Miami and move senior Cam Erving from that position to center. Since then Florida State has given up just two sacks, one of which was on a missed block by a running back.
In the end I think Florida State is able to do what they have done all season. Start slow and fight their way back into the game in the second half. The Florida State offense will initially have trouble moving the football, but as Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston make adjustments the offense will get rolling. Florida will be able to move the football on the ground, but the Noles will hold in the redzone like they’ve done all season and force the Gators to kick field goals. In the end Winston and the Florida State offense will be too much for Florida. Noles win 31-23.