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Are things different with Florida Gators, Florida State? We’ll see this weekend

If the Gators and Seminoles truly are turning things around, we’ll see signs of growth shortly.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier makes his debut this weekend against Utah.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier makes his debut this weekend against Utah. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 29|Updated Aug. 29

Florida Gators coach Billy Napier and Florida State’s Mike Norvell didn’t need to hide their enthusiasm about this week’s high-profile games.

“It’s Florida State and LSU playing in the Superdome,” Norvell said during Monday’s weekly news conference. “Let’s go. If you’re not fired up for this one. …”

We can assume the Seminoles and Gators will indeed be fired up for their marquee games against the Tigers and No. 7 Utah. But will that fire finally make a difference in the final score? If UF and FSU truly spent the offseason turning things around, we’ll see signs of growth in this weekend’s prime-time games in New Orleans and Gainesville.

Related: Florida vs. Utah is big for the Gators. It’s monumental for the Utes

For the Gators, some of the changes might be subtle. The program Napier inherited was one of the most penalized teams in the nation, so eliminating foolish mistakes became a major point of training camp.

To fix the problem, UF invited more insight from officials. Napier’s staff also prepared detailed penalty reports for players’ 2021 performances to highlight every miscue. Penalties can be costly in any game, but they can loom even larger in Week 1, when uncertainty is at its peak.

“I think that a lot of openers, there’s a lot of them that are lost more than won …” Napier said.

Related: One key to Billy Napier’s Florida Gators turnaround: Socks?

This will be our first glimpse at whether Napier’s Gators can avoid the losing plays that helped doom Dan Mullen.

The other major focus worth monitoring is even harder to see but no less important: chemistry. That’s the change punter Jeremy Crawshaw wants to see, at least.

Earlier in his UF career, Crawshaw said the offense and defense could point fingers at each other. That’s no longer happening.

“I’m pretty sure it will come out this Saturday when it gets tough and we start coming together …” Crawshaw said.

Even if the Gators do come together, there’s no guarantee they’ll beat the reigning Pac-12 champions. But if they splinter in Week 1, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the month (which features tough games against Kentucky and at Tennessee) or for the rest of Napier’s first season.

At Florida State, there’s only one change that matters: Can the ‘Noles start winning these toss-up, big-time games?

Florida State did what it was supposed to do in Week 0 against Duquesne.
Florida State did what it was supposed to do in Week 0 against Duquesne. [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]

FSU went from getting blown out in Year 1 to losing tight games in Year 2. That was progress. But the next step is to win more one-score games like Notre Dame (an overtime defeat last Labor Day weekend), at Clemson (where FSU was in the game until the final play) and UF (where a failed onside kick ended the comeback bid in the closing minute).

LSU has a chance to be a similarly tight game. The Tigers enter Sunday’s matchup as a complete unknown thanks to a new coach (Brian Kelly, who took over from Notre Dame), new quarterback (presumably Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels) and new roster (16 scholarship additions through the portal). But LSU has a championship pedigree and enough talent to remain competitive.

The Seminoles do, too. They simply need to put it together.

FSU did that Saturday in trouncing Duquesne. Norvell, correctly, said his team “dominated a game that we needed to dominate.”

Related: Give Florida State credit for crushing Duquesne. Seriously.

Now the ‘Noles need to take the next step by beating a talented team they can beat in a big-time, prove-it situation.

“That was a glimpse,” Norvell said of FSU’s Week 0 triumph. “And what we do this week and how we prepare and how we seize the opportunity come Sunday night ... that will be another showcase of who we are and what we’re all about.”

The stage is there for the Gators and Seminoles. We’ll see whether either can showcase signs of a turnaround.

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