Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Colleges

As FSU soars, Gators aim to regroup

RECOMMENDED READING


The team has driven so far, so fast. These days, FSU moves as if it's playing in fast-forward mode, attacking the end zone like Huns, demanding the next touchdown and the one after that.

These days, the Seminoles are a blur of burgundy, fast-breaking through the ACC. They are in the passing lane of college football and, still, they are in a hurry to get back to where they used to be.

In the meantime, the eye-popping statistics of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston continue to pile higher. Blink, and you might miss a touchdown. Sneeze and you might miss another. But of all things, the most impressive things about Winston are these:

He has made FSU football matter again.

He has his team in the conversation for the national championship.

And he has snatched the momentum away from Florida.

Seven games into a career, that's a pretty good place to start.

That's the thing about college football. Things change quickly. Take Florida. Take Florida State.

Just a little while ago, weren't they wearing each other's cleats?

Last year, it was Florida that had all of the momentum in this state. The Gators had the hot young coach, and they had the relentless defense, and while they didn't quite play the way their fan base wanted them to play, they won 11 games. The future was so bright, it called for sunglasses.

Meanwhile, at FSU, everyone seemed unhappy. The coach hadn't convinced anyone he was the long-haul guy, and no one seemed crazy about the quarterback, and at the worst possible times, the defense seemed to have a soft underbelly. FSU still was a program that seemed to trip over its own yard lines too often.

True, FSU finished only one slot behind Florida in the final AP poll last year (The Gators were ninth; FSU 10th), but the truth of it was that the Gators were much closer to being a team that mattered.

Then someone hit the switch.

And everything changed.

Just for the record, when did FSU pass Florida again?

Suddenly, it is FSU that seems to own the energy in this state. It has the hot young quarterback. It has a coach worthy of reconsideration. It has a defense that seems better, tougher than the version of last year. Put it this way: At the Bovada gambling site, FSU would be a 17-point favorite over Florida. If it were a neutral-site game, FSU would be favored by 21.

Even now, across the country, they are arguing whether FSU or Oregon should be the nation's No. 2 football team. Even now, Winston's name is being mentioned in the Heisman voting. Oh, some still have to be convinced, because FSU plays its old nemesis Miami this week, and later, it plays Florida in Gainesville. But for now, at least, FSU is the hottest team in the state.

Yes, that is certain to make FSU fans nervous. In college football, nothing quite shakes the nerves like having a shot at a title, especially for a team that has stubbed its toe in recent years.

Still, at least FSU fans can see a way to the title game. If they keep winning, if LSU beats Alabama, if Stanford can beat Oregon, the Seminoles are riding high.

The odd thing? If Alabama and Oregon win out, it might be Florida's devalued season that costs FSU in the end. Yes, any win over the Gators is going to be a big deal for FSU fans, but if Florida has five losses or so by then, winning wouldn't be a great boost for FSU in the rankings.

So what has happened here to make college football in this state turn into a remake of Trading Places?

For one thing, Florida State happened. It has been a long time since a Seminole team looked this complete. For another thing, Winston happened. No one had any right to expect him to make the kind of impact he has made so far.

For another thing, Florida happened. You may be weary of hearing about the Gators' injuries, but they are real. And, yes, they have played a part.

Still, there are Florida fans who notice that the Gators are a couple of losses from Ron Zook territory.

And, as long as we're talking about it, they hate the plodding, dull way the Gators play these days.

Hey, this is the home of the Fun 'N' Gun, remember? This is a program that spent years speeding by the opposition, making opponents look slow and helpless in the process. In the past three seasons, however, Florida has ranked 109th, 103rd and 105th in the nation on offense.

That makes for a lot of teeth-grinding along the way. Put it this way: Football at Florida is no longer a NASCAR race. It's the traffic jam leaving the speedway.

Before anyone starts, let's say this. Will Muschamp isn't in any danger. He won 11 times last year, for crying out loud. Most of this year has been spent watching players limp away. Still, we can agree on this: Even if Florida hadn't lost a player, its offense wouldn't be very good.

As much as anything, you get the feeling that this is really what bothers Florida. Oh, no one likes the losses, but most of those can be explained away by the injuries. It's just when Florida fans look at the way FSU plays, there is a feeling that something greater has been lost along the way.

As for FSU, I think the Seminoles just scored again.

Sixth time today.

Not bad for a Wednesday.

Comments
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

It’s a Thanksgiving Football Wednesday as Rick Stroud and Tom Jones preview the Bucs-Falcons game, USF-UCF, Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and more.The guys agree on the Bucs game outcome with Rick saying they can’t win. They also agree that Tha...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Call Missouri jinxed, but Michael Porter Jr. injury is its own story

Please repeat after me: There is no such thing as jinxes, hexes, ghosts or cartoonish black clouds looming with personalized curses for select targets.Honest.But, boy, are there coincidences — even if some say there is no such thing as those, either....
Published: 11/21/17

Chip Kelly is not the best candidate for Florida job

For the sake of a beleaguered and bedraggled fan base, here’s hoping Chip Kelly becomes the next head coach of the Florida Gators even though I think he’s not a great fit — culturally, geographically and philosophically — at UF.Gator Nation needs som...
Published: 11/21/17

Lane Kiffin knows speculation about his future grows with each victory

BOCA RATON — Lane Kiffin already knows what profession he will choose once his coaching career ends.Kiffin, in his first season at Florida Atlantic, thinks he is destined to join the sports-media ranks. It will provide him opportunity to switch roles...
Published: 11/21/17
Jones: Maybe the Florida job isn’t as good as we thought

Jones: Maybe the Florida job isn’t as good as we thought

These are strange, unsettling times for the University of Florida.The Gators need themselves a football coach.They offer a terrific job. Maybe one of the best jobs in the country.Right?Uh, right? (nervous laugh)Well, we’ll soon find out. Maybe this i...
Published: 11/21/17
UF has little to say after meeting with Kelly

UF has little to say after meeting with Kelly

GAINESVILLE — At last, there’s some actual smoke to the Chip Kelly-Florida rumors.The Gators sent a group — including president Kent Fuchs and athletic director Scott Stricklin — to New Hampshire on Sunday to talk with the former Oregon coach about U...
Published: 11/20/17
No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

No. 2 Miami finishes on 30-0 run, tops Virginia 44-28

MIAMI — After Miami clinched the first Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division crown in program history, upset the then-No. 3 team in the country, claimed one of the top four spots in the College Football Playoff rankings and after many of the nat...
Published: 11/18/17
Florida State routs Delaware State 77-6

Florida State routs Delaware State 77-6

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher longed for his team to play in this type of game throughout its disappointing season.After Hurricane Irma caused a three-week layoff between FSU’s first two games, forcing it to play 11 in a row to finis...
Published: 11/18/17
A welcome return to dominance for the Florida defense

A welcome return to dominance for the Florida defense

GAINESVILLE — Chauncey Gardner wasn’t fooled. He saw UAB snap the ball. He saw the quarterback throw a screen. He saw the receiver fire a second pass downfield. Then a crowd of 84,649 saw the sophomore safety high-point the trick-play pass to earn hi...
Published: 11/18/17