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Schedule Preview: Will Florida State hoist the gator head vs. Florida?

An early look at Florida State’s annual clash with the Florida Gators

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Florida at Florida State Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanksgiving weekend in the Sunshine State means only one thing — Florida vs. Florida State.

Between 1990 and 2000 this was the rivalry other rivalries wanted to be. Two Sugar Bowl rematches meant the teams played thirteen times in eleven seasons, all of the games were between teams ranked in the Top 10, six played between teams in the Top 5.

Ward to Dunn, the Choke at Doak, The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter, #1 vs #2 in 1996, Peter Warrick’s game winner of a deflection in 1998, along with a few notable moments for the Gators this was the greatest run of games any two teams put together in college football history. It is frustrating we never got a proper documentary about this time while Bobby Bowden was alive to help tell the tale.

Last year, Florida State broke a three-game losing streak to the Gators in a 45-38 thriller that wouldn’t have looked out of place during the rivalry’s glory days. But that was a game featuring an FSU program still relearning how to win big games vs. a Florida team loaded with NFL talent including a future Top 5 NFL draft pick at QB.

This year, FSU should walk into Gainesville with playoff aspirations while Florida may already be assured its third straight losing season. FSU’s prior three national championship teams had statement wins in Gainesville as part of their resume and the 2023 Seminoles will look to be no different.

Florida State vs. Florida Breakdown

Date: Saturday November 25th, 2023

Location: Gainesville, FL, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Previous matchup: FSU win, 45-38 — just watch the highlights of a game that would’ve made Bobby Bowden proud.

All-time series: Florida leads 37-27-2, FSU leads 25-21-1 since 1977

Florida Gators: Team Preview

2022 record: 6-7 (3-5), kicked a field goal down by 30 points in the closing moments of the Las Vegas Bowl to keep their NCAA streak of games without being shutout alive. First time since 1978/1979 the Gators suffered back-to-back losing seasons.

Two things to know

  1. The Gators have arguably the most difficult schedule in the country. They will open the season at defending PAC-12 champion Utah followed by their yearly SEC clashes with Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU. There is a good chance Florida will be going into the game looking to avoid having three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1947.
  2. A win in Gainesville would be another feather in the cap of Jordan Travis’ growing legacy at FSU. He would join Jimmy Jordan/Wally Woodham, Chris Weinke, EJ Manuel, and Jameis Winston as the only QBs in FSU history with road wins over Miami and Florida.

Three key players

Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne, RB: Listing them together as they function as a duo and will be the workhorses for the Gators’ offense this year. They combined for over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Etienne had a career night vs. the Noles last year going for 129 yards including a 45-yard touchdown to tie the game at 38 in the 4th quarter.

Graham Mertz. QB: Mertz was a three-year starter at Wisconsin before being brought in to replace Anthony Richardson. Mertz won’t be asked to be anywhere near Richardson’s highs but he’ll need to be effective enough to keep defenses from teeing off on the running game

Desmond Watson, DL: Watson’s impact when he is on the field is undeniable but his conditioning was an issue. He is easily the best run defender the Gators have and getting as many snaps out of him as possible will be crucial for the Gators to have a chance of slowing down the Noles’ rushing attack.

Florida State vs. Florida: Game Preview

Best Case: The Seminoles will come into the rivalry game with a clear talent advantage for the first time since Jimbo Fisher beat up on Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain for five straight years. FSU is the team with all of the NFL-ready talent, a Heisman-caliber QB, and playoff aspirations while UF is the program struggling to rebuild their roster. Florida enters the game assured of its third straight losing season for the first time since World War II vets were still playing college football while FSU comes in ranked in the playoff committee’s Top 4. The Seminoles walk into the Swamp looking to make a statement and deliver with a 45-0 thrashing of their archrival.

Realistic Case: A game where FSU showcases its growth as a team and program from last year. After a back-and-forth first half, the Seminoles had Florida on the ropes 38-24 in the 4th quarter last year only to allow Florida back in the game late. This year, Florida keeps it close in the first half but the Noles take control in the 3rd quarter and cruise to a 35-17 win. An ACC Championship game rematch against Clemson with a spot in the playoffs looms the following week.

Worst Case: The Seminoles and Gators enter Thanksgiving weekend with identical 8-3 records but couldn’t be further apart in attitudes. Losses to LSU & Clemson cost the Noles a shot at the playoffs while an inexplicable 2nd ACC loss cost the Noles any chance of the ACC Championship. Meanwhile, Florida has punched above its weight all season and wants to cap off a better-than-expected year with a rivalry win. Emotions rule the day and the Gators pull it out 28-17. After a season where FSU went all in on a playoff run, the season can be described as nothing less than a catastrophe.