When the Florida Gators joined Florida State and Miami in this week’s Top 25, it marked the first time since Sept. 17, 2017 that the Seminoles, Hurricanes and UF were all ranked at the same time in The Associated Press poll.
Does this mean the Big Three programs are finally back?
Here are three reasons for optimism and three reasons to pump the brakes:
Why Florida, FSU, Miami might be back
Consider the competition: The Big Three didn’t enter the poll by thumping bad opponents; they earned their way there. Florida upset a top-15 Tennessee team that won 11 games and the Orange Bowl last season. FSU knocked off the reigning SEC West champion, LSU, in a victory that looks better after the Tigers crushed Mississippi State in Starkville over the weekend. Miami topped Texas A&M by 15 in a game that didn’t feel that close.
The last time all three teams had wins over ranked teams in September: 2007, when the Gators routed Tennessee, FSU toppled Alabama in Jacksonville and Miami upset Texas A&M by 17.
There’s proof of concept: The wins are paramount, but how those wins transpired matters, too. Gators coach Billy Napier said his team’s triumph “validates your plan,” and he’s right. He showed fans and recruits that his complementary style with a steady offense and sound defense can win big at No. 25 Florida. It’s the same at No. 4 Florida State, where Mike Norvell has proven his ability to evaluate and deploy talent, and at No. 20 Miami, where Mario Cristobal’s decision to bring a version of the Air Raid to The U torched the nation’s fourth-most talented team.
Recruiting: The Gators and Seminoles both have top-six recruiting classes this cycle, according to the 247Sports composite. Though oral commitments are non-binding and rankings fluctuate, the returns are encouraging.
Miami’s 2024 class is only 16th, but five-star junior Armondo Blount committed to the Hurricanes last week. The defensive lineman from Miami Central would be the school’s fourth-highest rated signee of the modern recruiting era, according to 247Sports.
“Miami is working its way to looking what Miami should look like,” Cristobal said after last week’s blowout of Bethune-Cookman.
Florida and Florida State are, too.
Why Florida, FSU, Miami might not be back
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
It’s early: Go back to the 2017, when the Big Three were all ranked. FSU stumbled to 7-6 in the final throes of the Jimbo Fisher era. Florida suffered a five-game losing streak amidst Jim McElwain’s awkward exit, while Miami started 10-0 but finished 10-3. That poll, clearly, did not portend a new golden era in Florida college football.
The rankings at this point a year ago are also instructive. A dozen teams that were ranked after Week 3 finished outside the top 25, including Florida and Miami. One of the teams that wasn’t in the top 25 but finished there? Florida State.
Consider those history lessons reminders that polls are fluid, especially in September.
How big were the big wins, really? Yes, the Aggies and Volunteers were ranked at the time, but there are reasons to be skeptical about both teams. This Tennessee team doesn’t look as dynamic as the one last year with star quarterback Hendon Hooker and first-year USF coach Alex Golesh, and Texas A&M has a decades-long history of underachieving. Their four wins over cupcakes represent a small sample size. Maybe both teams are just OK.
There’s precedent for this, too, with statement wins from the state. In 2017, Florida moved into the Top 20 by beating a ranked Tennessee team that finished 4-8 and fired coach Butch Jones. Those 2007 wins by FSU and Miami over Alabama and Texas A&M? Both opponents finished 7-6.
It’s simply too early to tell whether the wins that look impressive now will still look impressive in December.
The numbers aren’t convinced: Advanced metrics provide an imperfect but impartial look at teams. FSU’s average ranking in the Sagarin ratings and ESPN’s SP+ and Football Power Index: 13.3. The Gators are outside the top 25 in two of them, while Miami is 21.7. The numbers suggest all three are good teams, but great, not good, is the standard for the Big Three. The analytics say they’re not there yet.
The bottom line
The Big Three are off to a fine start, but it’s just a start. If the Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes are ready to live up to their championship expectations, we’ll find out soon. FSU plays at Clemson this week. The Gators still have matchups with No. 1 Georgia and No. 12 LSU. Miami should be 5-0 heading into back-to-back games at No. 17 North Carolina and vs. Clemson. If they can win most/all of those matchups, it’ll be time to consider declaring the Big Three back.
But for now, the best we can say is that, for the first time in at least six years, they appear on their way there.
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.