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Previewing 2017 FSU opponents: Florida

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Will the Gators score an offensive touchdown this year?

NCAA Football: Florida at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our series previewing the Seminoles’ 2017 opponents with the Florida Gators.

Florida State is currently enjoying a four-game winning streak over the Gators, capped off by a 31-13 win in Tallahassee last year. Jimbo Fisher is 6-1 overall against Florida, the only win from UF’s side coming in 2012.

It’s been a tale of two opposites in this rivalry in recent years. Since Fisher took over as head coach in 2010, Florida State has gone 78-17 overall (82% win percentage) with three ACC titles and a national championship in 2013. Meanwhile, the Gators have gone 56-34 over that same time span (62% win percentage), with a pair of SEC championship game appearances to show for it.

Will the disparity continue to grow, or is this the year in which Florida finally shows some fight?

No, this is totally the year that Florida has a QB

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this is definitely the year that the Gators find a quarterback according to their fans.

Ever since Tim Tebow departed the program, Florida has struggled to find a consistent option under center. Although players like Jeff Driskel, Will Grier, and Luke Del Rio have started games for UF, none cemented themselves as a viable option.

As Bill Connelly notes in his preview, next year will likely see yet another new quarterback under center for the Gators.

Del Rio returns in 2017, but we could see two more new QBs atop the depth chart: redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire. If they both start at least a game, they would become the 10th and 11th different Gator starting QBs in eight seasons since Tebow left. Funny how a complete and total lack of continuity and quality at QB can drag you down a bit.

Along with the issues at quarterback, Florida’s offense has lacked explosive playmakers for some time now. But with options this year like running back Jordan Scarlett, receivers Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland, as well as tight end DeAndre Goolsby, whoever is under center will have some talented players around them.

That is, of course, assuming these guys are on the field. Callaway was recently suspended, along with six other Florida players, for the Gators’ season opener against Michigan.

Can Florida reload on defense?

The one thing Florida has been able to rely on recently has been its defense.

Part of that has been thanks to stellar defensive coordinators. While new DC Randy Shannon has experience, he will have big shoes to fill in Gainesville after the departure of Geoff Collins.

Since 2003, Florida’s coordinators have been Charlie Strong (53 wins in seven years as an FBS head coach), Teryl Austin (now Detroit Lions DC), Dan Quinn (now Atlanta Falcons head coach), D.J. Durkin (now Maryland head coach), and Geoff Collins (now Temple head coach). That’s a high bar for Randy Shannon.

This year, the Gators have the herculean task of replacing seven draft picks on defense. When combined with the news that senior safety Marcell Harris will miss the season due to an ACL tear, this likely signals a rebuilding year down in Gainesville.

Up front, Florida returns former five-star recruit CeCe Jefferson and senior Jordan Sherit as its main playmakers. Depth will be a major concern, but if some of the younger players can step up, this unit could be solid.

In the secondary, Duke Dawson returns as one of the starting cornerbacks along with safeties Nick Washington and Chauncey Gardner. Those three make up a great trio, but the Gators will likely field a bunch of first-time players this year in the back half of their defense.

What will happen

Florida State travels to Gainesville this year as it seeks its fourth win in a row in the Swamp. The Seminoles have dominated this series recently and look to continue the trend this season.

If Florida can score an offensive touchdown against the ’Noles, which it hasn’t done since 2014, then this game could be competitive.