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Rout brings paths for Florida, Florida State into clear focus

John Romano | The Gators’ surge to national prominence continues under Dan Mullen; the Seminoles no longer have to pretend the next coach may be an internal hire.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass over Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach (20) during the first half Saturday in Gainesville. [JOHN RAOUX  |  AP]
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass over Florida State linebacker Kalen DeLoach (20) during the first half Saturday in Gainesville. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Dec. 1
Updated Dec. 1

GAINESVILLE — Well, that worked out nicely. The crowd was big, the scoreboard was buzzing and the outcome was fortuitous.

You see, No. 8 Florida got exactly what it wanted Saturday night. And Florida State got just what it needed.

The Gators can now point to their continued resurrection under coach Dan Mullen while making a legitimate case for their biggest New Year’s Day bowl since 2012.

And the Seminoles can do away with the illusion that interim coach Odell Haggins is a miracle worker who changed a program’s fortunes in less than a month.

In that sense, Florida did FSU a favor with its 40-17 victory Saturday night. It may have been painful and humiliating, but it was still necessary.

The Gators exposed every flaw the Seminoles had managed to obscure in recent weeks against inferior competition. And, my goodness, those flaws are everywhere.

They’re most noticeable on defense where Florida State had absolutely no pass rush, and one of the worst nights of tackling the SEC Network-viewing world has ever witnessed.

The Seminoles are also grievously undisciplined. It wasn’t just the number of penalties — and there were plenty of them — but the sheer number of unforced and silly mistakes. Delay-of-game penalties coming after a change of possession. An illegal formation penalty that wiped out a UF fumble on a punt. Ridiculous personal fouls.

If nothing else, that should cost Haggins whatever slim chance he had of replacing Willie Taggart on a full-time basis. The players may love Haggins, but they did him no favors on Saturday night.

This game, and the obvious gap between the programs, is the most compelling argument yet of the need for someone to come into Tallahassee and give the program the type of makeover that recruits and boosters are expecting.

As for the Gators, this felt like a final class before the end of the semester. They had to show up and put in their work, but everyone knew this was more of a party than an exam.

Quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns through three quarters, but those numbers should come with an asterisk. Most of his passes were quick outs and screens that were turned into long gainers by FSU’s inability to tackle.

The Gators still have trouble running the ball, and the secondary wasn’t particularly impressive against the Seminoles, but some of that could be attributed to a lack of focus after the score got out of hand.

The best news for Florida may actually have come minutes before Saturday night’s kickoff when Auburn completed a 48-45 upset of No. 5 Alabama. Not only does it mean Florida could move ahead of Alabama in the polls, but it also makes UF’s victory against Auburn in October loom even larger.

It also means the Gators could have a path to their first Sugar Bowl in seven years. If Georgia and LSU both get into the college playoffs, which is probably a long shot, then Florida probably heads to New Orleans. Otherwise, the Gators still have a pretty good case for the Orange or, even, their first Cotton Bowl.

Still, this game is not what it used to be. Everybody says it, everyone knows it.

There was a time when UF-FSU was mandatory viewing. They went an entire decade with both teams ranked in the top 10 when they met at the end of November. The winner went on to claim national championships six times in a 21-year stretch.

Lately, it’s been less about national championship implications and more about bragging rights. It’s about perceptions. It’s about trend lines. It’s about a coach being able to walk into a recruit’s living room and stating emphatically that the player will have a better chance at winning a national title or playing in the NFL at one school over another.

So, yeah, Saturday’s game was a far cry from the glory years for both schools.

Too many penalties, too many mistakes, too many reminders that the best teams in the nation play elsewhere.

But are there better days ahead?

Without a doubt. And you could make a case that Saturday night was the first step in that direction for both programs.

Even if one seemed a lot closer than the other.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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