There was a time when Florida versus Florida State decided National Championships and shaped the landscape of the game. There was a time when Florida and Florida State not only jointly ran the Sunshine State, but they sat atop the world of college football.
Over the past decade, the pendulum has swung from one to another. FSU carried the banner for much of the mid-decade, winning the 2013 National Championship and fighting for another when making the 2014 College Football Playoffs. During that time, the Gators went through two season of only four wins and three coaching changes (Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain to Dan Mullen).
Now, the Florida Gators are No. 11 in the country and have a chance for back-to-back 10 win seasons with a possibility for 11 wins on the table for the Gators this season. They have a coaching staff firmly in place and a noticeable upward trajectory.
The Seminoles are unranked, scraped to six wins and fired their head coach…after just a season and a half.
It can be a demoralizing feeling and one of which these Gators—especially the veterans like receiver Josh Hammond—remember all too well.
“It definitely sucks. You never want to lose your coach, especially halfway through the season and then have to go through that change, and you know, a bunch of questions going through your head because you don’t know what’s next, what’s going to happen after the season.
“I definitely know how they are feeling. They are definitely kind of just wanting to get over with it. I think we were kinda getting to that point, wanting to get it over with and see what was next for our future.”
While the Noles might be ready to just “get it over with” as Hammond explained, there is still an opportunity to make something from nothing. It’s how the Gators felt two years ago and even though FSU still beat Florida that year 38-22 in The Swamp, center Nick Buchanan remembers the Gators laissez-faire attitude that can prove dangerous to an opponent at times on the field.
“Their mindset is, ‘we have nothing to lose, so why not go out there and give it everything we’ve got?’ We know they’re going to go out here and play hard. First of all, this is Florida-Florida State, so all the records, everything that you have done all year goes out the window. It’s a rivalry game. It’s going to be a war. It’s going to be a battle. I know those guys are hungry to come out here and spoil our season and come into The Swamp and get a dub, just like they have done for the past three or four times. We’ve got to go out there and play our A-game.”
Florida hasn’t defeated FSU in The Swamp since 2009 in Tim Tebow’s final game as a Gator. It was also Bobby Bowden’s final regular season game as the Noles head coach. UF opened as a 17.5 point favorite over FSU for this weekend and the University of Florida Athletic Association is pulling out all the stops to make it a night to remember. The game is set to kick off at 7:30pm, it will be Senior Day and Percy Harvin is serving as the Celebrity Mr. Two-Bits during the pre-game traditional cheer.
The extra emphasis put on this game by Florida means it would be that much more satisfying on the Noles end to get the win, creating their own Ron Zook type of game…something of which the Gators are well aware.
“Bragging rights in the state of Florida. If they win this game, it doesn't matter what they've done all year. They're just going to basically take a W for the season,” notes BUCK Jon Greenard before continuing, “we’re going to go out there with the same mentality. We're going to continue to impose our will and make sure they feel us.”
The Gators have imposed their will on a vast majority of opponents this season and made their presence felt to all, even in losses. This is more than just a rivalry game though, at least as far as the Florida Gators are concerned. It’s a chance to end the season at home undefeated, another opportunity to show the College Football Playoff committee they deserve a New Year’s Six game and an opportunity to live up to and continue to reset the “Gator Standard.”
That’s the biggest difference in these two programs now. Florida State has nothing to play for but pride, and that can make a team dangerous. But the Florida Gators now have something even larger than themselves to play for. They’re representing a program that has come from the dark place in which FSU now sits and a program that has flourished under the lights once again. This is their time now and Jon Greenard assures they will use it well.
"We've got to beat the heck out these boys. That's our whole mindset. It's nothing else as far as worrying about bowl game or after the game, getting rest. Our mindset is to beat the heck out of them. They're going to think the same thing. I hope they think the same thing. But that's how we're coming."