On the surface, it would seem to be a down year for the Florida-Florida State rivalry.
Only the winner of the game between the longtime in-state foes Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., seemingly will clinch the right to go to a bowl game.
However, with the host Gators (5-6) at a crossroads after firing coach Dan Mullen on Sunday and the Seminoles (5-6) building for the future under second-year coach Mike Norvell, the outcome could have long-standing repercussions on both programs.
“I know what this game means,” Norvell said, “and, if you don’t get up for this one, then go somewhere else, go do something else, because it is not for you.”
The rivals did not meet last season because the Southeastern Conference had its teams play a conference-only schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time the teams had not met since the series began in 1958.
This will be the third time in the past four meetings that one of the teams will be coached by an interim coach. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox will serve as interim coach for Florida on Saturday.
The Gators had designs on potentially competing for the SEC championship following a 3-1 start that included a narrow 31-29 loss at home to then-No. 1 Alabama. Things went south fast from that point. Florida lost five of its next seven games, resulting in Mullen’s dismissal after four seasons.
Mullen went 34-15 during his time at Florida, but the Gators have lost nine of their past 11 games against Power 5 opponents.
“The challenge has been we haven’t been able to sustain it,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “You’ve got to put really good structure and culture in place in order to sustain a high level over a long period of time, and that’s going forward what we’ve got to focus on.”
Florida State has been going the other way this season. The Seminoles endured their first 0-4 start since 1974 before turning things around and winning five of the past seven, including a dramatic 31-28 comeback win over Miami two weeks ago.
Florida State, Florida play for bowl eligibility