GAINESVILLE — When No. 8 Florida hosted unranked Florida State in Saturday night’s regular-season finale, the programs appeared headed in opposite directions.
The Gators were playing at a chance for a second consecutive season with double-digit wins. Another New Year’s Six bowl was a realistic possibility, and so was another top-10 finish.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, were on Game 3 since firing coach Willie Taggart 21 games into his dreadful tenure. FSU was hoping to rise in the bowl pecking order to avoid another trip to the Independence Bowl.
As far apart as Florida and FSU are, Gator fans shouldn’t get too cocky, nor should Seminole fans despair too much. Fortunes flip quickly in this state and in this sport. Just remember where they were last time they met at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Back in 2017, the ’Noles were the ones on top. They had won five in a row in this fierce rivalry and controlled the state. Sure, their five-year stretch of double-digit wins and premier bowl games was ending. But one mediocre season looked more like a blip than a sign of things to come, even with coach Jimbo Fisher having one foot out the door to College Station.
Florida was the one struggling. The Gators were on their own interim coach after the midseason departure of Jim McElwain, who won most of the games that didn’t matter but rarely won the ones that did. With back-to-back bad coaching hires and the rise of Georgia in the SEC East, the highs of the Tim Tebow era never seemed so far away.
Florida’s 16-point loss that year was its fourth in a row at home to FSU.
“I guess you look back on that time frame, Florida has kind of been down a little bit and (FSU) had a couple of good teams, so I guess you could see why that happened,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said Monday.
Mullen’s hire a day after that unwatchable drubbing changed everything.
That should be a sign of hope for the Seminoles, who will immediately turn their full attention to finding a full-time replacement for Taggart. An announcement should come in the next few days, perhaps as soon as today.
As rough as things look for FSU, the right coach can fix a program, just as the right one has fixed the Gators.
FSU standout safety Hamsah Nasirildeen left the game in the second quarter with a left leg injury. He was loaded onto a cart and did a Tomahawk Chop on his way off the field for further evaluation.
Earlier in the game, the junior became the fourth FSU player since 2000 to record 100 tackles in a season. The other three: Reggie Northrup, Buster Davis and A.J. Nicholson.
Odds and ends
• Both change-of-pace quarterbacks for each team saw early action . Louisville transfer Jordan Travis scored FSU’s lone touchdown of the first half when he plunged in from a yard out midway through the first quarter. Florida’s Emory Jones threw a 16-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland for a first down and rushed for another to help set up the Gators’ second score.
• FSU got a boost with the return of star running back Cam Akers, who missed the Alabama State game with an undisclosed injury. His return was vital, considering the Seminoles were without their only other available scholarship running back (Khalan Laborn, who was suspended for violating team rules).
• Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga (ankle) remained sidelined. He has played sparingly over the past nine games.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.