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Florida-Florida State: What's really riding on Saturday's game

Florida Gators running back Kelvin Taylor (21) runs the ball after a hand off from Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris (3) during the third quarter of the football game between the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, November 28, 2015. The Florida Gators lost to the Florida State Seminoles 27-2. EVE EDELHEIT   I   Times
Florida Gators running back Kelvin Taylor (21) runs the ball after a hand off from Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris (3) during the third quarter of the football game between the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, November 28, 2015. The Florida Gators lost to the Florida State Seminoles 27-2. EVE EDELHEIT I Times
Published Nov. 24, 2017

GAINESVILLE — If misery loves company, at least the Gators and Seminoles have each other.

That's about the only positive in the least-appealing Florida-Florida State showdown in decades. Both enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium today 4-6 — only the second time since the series began in 1958 that each team has had a losing record for this game; the other was 1959.

"These teams always challenge each other, no matter what," Florida interim coach Randy Shannon said. "So no matter what the record is and what the talent level is on both sides of the football, it's going to be a very hard, physical game that you want to be a part of."

That's true, but it doesn't change the lack of buzz surrounding the 62nd meeting between the programs. The most entertaining drama is off the field.

The Gators are still looking for a new coach and have reportedly ended their high-profile courtship of former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. The Seminoles are wondering whether they might have to ride the coaching carousel, too. Texas A&M is expected to make a strong run at coach Jimbo Fisher, although it remains unclear how seriously he will entertain the idea of leaving Tallahassee.

Regardless, both sides had their own stumbles to get to this mutual low point in the series.

The Gators' depth chart is closer to an NFL roster (53) than college (85 on scholarship), thanks to suspensions and injuries. UF is still without injured quarterback Luke Del Rio — who will be honored on senior day after deciding not to pursue a sixth year of eligibility — and likely will be without another quarterback, Malik Zaire (knee).

Those factors, plus a defensive regression and coaching turmoil, put Florida in a position with little to play for. The Gators need a victory to avoid matching the 2013 team for fewest wins in a season since 1980. They're also trying to snap FSU's four-game winning streak in the series — Florida State has never won five straight — and knock the 'Noles out of bowl contention.

"There's not much to look forward to with this season," receiver Dre Massey said, "so we're looking forward to that."

The fact FSU is this close to having its 35-year bowl streak snapped is a stunning fall for a team that began the season ranked No. 3 nationally.

The Seminoles' star-studded defense has underachieved. Injuries to the offensive line, receivers and quarterback only made matters worse. Assuming Fisher stays for another season, his coaching staff is likely in store for a significant shake-up.

But first, FSU needs to beat Florida and Louisiana-Monroe (rescheduled for next week because of Hurricane Irma) in order to break an NCAA record with a 36th consecutive bowl appearance.

"I think that's important," Fisher said. "That's always one of the goals we can achieve. I think it's still out there."

There's one other thing out there for both sides: A rivalry win. Florida's seniors have never beaten FSU, a fact that was brought up in the locker room last week, moments after a 36-7 victory over UAB.

Fisher is 6-1 against the Gators, and that one loss sticks with him. FSU's 2012 season was an unquestioned success: His Seminoles finished 12-2, claimed their first ACC title in seven seasons and won the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1995.

But fans were still upset because he lost to the Gators.

"That's what that game means," Fisher said. "Playing your rival does have meaning. It means a lot."

Even this year.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.