GAINESVILLE — When Florida coach Dan Mullen was at Mississippi State, he famously referred to rival Ole Miss as "the school up north."
His old Gators boss, Urban Meyer, dubbed the rival Seminoles "the school out west."
So, Mullen was asked Monday, what does he call Florida State?
"Uh, Florida State?" Mullen said.
It sounds as if Mullen has learned that it doesn't matter what name he gives to his rivals. All that matters is how often he beats them.
His predecessors didn't do it enough. Will Muschamp went 1-3 against the 'Noles. Jim McElwain didn't produce an offensive touchdown in his two blowout losses to FSU (by a combined score of 58-15).
Those failures are why No. 13 UF will enter Doak Campbell Stadium with five consecutive losses to FSU — the Gators' longest losing streak in a series that dates back to 1958.
"Something you really should just have in your head, 'Dang, I'm tired of getting whupped…'" Gators running back Lamical Perine said, "It's either you're going to man up and try to fight back, or you're just going to keep being beat up on the ground. What do you want to choose?"
Through 11 games this season, UF has chosen to fight back. That's why the Gators have had one of the nation's biggest turnarounds, doubling their 2017 win total from four to eight and advancing to the cusp of a prestigious New Year's Six bowl game.
FSU, meanwhile, is still sputtering in Year 1 under Willie Taggart; unless the 'Noles upset the Gators, FSU's NCAA-record 36-year bowl streak will end. So will its run of 41 consecutive winning seasons.
While Mullen and some Gators have said they want to snap those FSU runs, they're more focused on what a victory would mean for UF and a senior class that has never beaten the 'Noles.
"You're going out there to win the state," UF receiver Tyrie Cleveland said.
And the state as a whole is up for grabs.
Since its 10-0 start last season, Miami has lost eight of its last 14 games heading into Saturday's matchup with Pitt. The Seminoles are trying to scrap their way to a second consecutive 7-6 season. The state's only other ranked program is UCF — a potential opponent for the Gators, if both hold on to advance to the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.
While the recruiting implications of one game are overblown, Mullen recognizes how important Saturday is for a fan base starving for a win and another sign that the program is getting closer to its championship standard.
"If you (don't) beat your rivals, then however the rest of the year looks it's, 'it was a good year, but…'" Mullen said. "You don't lose to your rivals, then you can be like, 'it was a bad year, but…'"
Regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, this has been a good year for Mullen's Gators.
They've already exceeded reasonable preseason expectations. Although they lost badly to one rival (Georgia), they destroyed another (Tennessee, on the road) and have a top-10 win over LSU.
To make it a great year, all Mullen has to do is end the losing streak to that school out west.
"We're not going to call them that," Mullen said. "We just want to go beat them."
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.