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Florida Gators, FSU set for biggest showdown since 2016. It’s a start

UF and FSU just did something they haven’t done together since 1998.
The Florida Gators have won back-to-back SEC games impressively, setting up a matchup with Florida State next week that finally has some juice to it.
The Florida Gators have won back-to-back SEC games impressively, setting up a matchup with Florida State next week that finally has some juice to it. [ MATT STAMEY | AP ]
Published Nov. 14|Updated Nov. 15

GAINESVILLE — After four irrelevant meetings, the Florida-Florida State game on Nov. 25 will have some buzz around it again.

Finally.

Granted, a matchup of two teams with a combined seven losses — assuming the Gators get past Vanderbilt on Saturday and the No. 20 Seminoles top Louisiana — won’t have national championship implications. Calling it big will sound laughable to anyone old enough to remember their clashes in the ‘90s. Then again, it won’t be any more laughable than their past four meetings (three of which had interim coaches and the other being a 27-point blowout that ended FSU’s bowl streak).

Related: Inside the collapse of Florida college football’s Big Three

Both teams are brimming with confidence and momentum after a pair of 30-plus-point blowouts last week. The last time the Gators and ‘Noles both beat conference opponents by at least 30 points on the same day: Nov. 7, 1998 (FSU thumped Virginia, UF crushed Vanderbilt). Though neither Syracuse nor South Carolina is a juggernaut, both were nationally ranked earlier this season.

Florida safety Trey Dean III and the Gators had their best performance of the season last week against South Carolina.
Florida safety Trey Dean III and the Gators had their best performance of the season last week against South Carolina. [ MATT STAMEY | AP ]

First-year Florida coach Billy Napier called the 38-6 win over South Carolina “by far the most complete game that we’ve played.” FSU’s Mike Norvell called his team’s 38-3 rout at Syracuse “a dominant performance.”

Related: If Florida Gators turn it around under Billy Napier, remember these last 8 days

Those dominant performances have become a trend at FSU. The Seminoles have gotten healthy and outscored opponents by 102 points during their three-game winning streak.

The Gators aren’t quite there yet, but they look as if they have turned a corner. Quarterback Anthony Richardson has gone four consecutive games without throwing an interception, and coordinator Patrick Toney’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in six consecutive quarters.

“We’re just finally buying in and trusting what Coach ‘PT’ is calling, and we’re all just trying to do our job a lot better,” defensive lineman Gervon Dexter said. “Once you see it works, it’s like, ‘OK, it works.’ "

Make no mistake, it is working at both programs. They both have won back-to-back conference games by at least 17 points for the first time since November 2000. FSU is in the Associated Press top 20 for the first time since it started the Willie Taggart era 19th in 2018, while the Gators are receiving votes again. The Seminoles will also finish at least tied for second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division; Norvell said that’s not where FSU wants to be, but it represents progress from being tied for fourth a year ago.

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Mycah Pittman and the Seminoles have blown out three consecutive ACC opponents.
Mycah Pittman and the Seminoles have blown out three consecutive ACC opponents. [ DENNIS NETT | syracuse.com ]

“We’ve been dominant the last three games, but we can be better,” he said during Monday’s news conference. “That is the push.”

Both programs must keep pushing to get back to where they want to be, and where they should be. Whichever team loses on Black Friday at Doak Campbell Stadium will have at least four losses, which usually counts as a disappointment.

Related: AP top 25 ballot: Pac-12 is a mess, and FSU keeps climbing our rankings

But their recent rivalry meetings have been defined by expiring coaching staffs, sloppy play and national irrelevance. This year’s game will feature two teams at least competent for the first time since 2016.

Remember that when you’re watching what should be a pair of lopsided games this weekend. Brighter days are coming — soon.

Odds and ends

Florida Gators defensive lineman Gervon Dexter is one of the best NFL draft prospects at his position, according to ESPN.
Florida Gators defensive lineman Gervon Dexter is one of the best NFL draft prospects at his position, according to ESPN. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Dexter said he hasn’t given any thought to whether last weekend was his last game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The third-year sophomore is the No. 9 draft-eligible defensive tackle in this class, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Richardson — who’s also non-committal about his future — is Kiper’s No. 4 quarterback.

The Nov. 26 USF-UCF game at Raymond James Stadium will kick off at 7 or 7:30 and be shown on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. It will be the last War on I-4 for a while, as the Knights prepare to move to the Big 12 and future non-conference schedules are booked.

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