Former Florida head coach Dan Mullen walked towards the home locker room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Nov. 13, celebrating a comeback victory in front of the Gators home crowd.
This time, however, his shirt was green instead of blue (a part of Florida’s military appreciation weekend), the opposing sideline held the Samford Bulldogs rather than a Southeastern Conference foe, and the game became Mullen’s final ride in The Swamp.
Mullen was fired last Sunday after an overtime loss to Missouri, and now Florida seeks its first Power 5 win since Oct. 9 against Florida State with bowl eligibility on the line for both rivals. The Alligator’s football writers weigh in on whether the Gators go bowling.
Michael: It has been a lackluster year for both the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles, to put it lightly. The regular season mercifully draws to an end for both programs Saturday, but both teams look to gain bowl eligibility in Gainesville. The difference between these two programs is the trajectory of their respective seasons. Florida was a failed two-point conversion away from knocking off Alabama in Week 3, while FSU started the year 0-4 including a loss to Jacksonville State.
However, the ‘Noles have won three of their last five games, featuring big wins over Boston College and Miami, while the Gators have lost four of their last five and fired Mullen.
The trends of these two teams could not be more opposite. It’s clear FSU head coach Mike Norvell is building something up in Tally, while Florida is scrambling to find a new head coach to hopefully right the ship of the program. As far as this year’s teams go, neither impress on paper or on the field. Florida State is middle-of-the-pack in the Atlantic Coastal Conference in points per game (28.2) and points allowed per game (26.7), while Florida is fifth in the Southeastern Conference in points per game (32.5) but is 11th in points allowed per game (27.1).
This game will come to Jordan Travis v. Anthony Richardson. The FSU starting quarterback hasn’t lit the world on fire by any means, but he has been extremely efficient since taking the job back from McKenzie Milton in October: He’s thrown just one interception to 10 touchdowns over the last six games. Richardson, meanwhile, has been an anomaly this year.
After showing flashes against FAU, USF and LSU, Richardson received his first start of his career against Georgia’s vaunted defense. Naturally he struggled, throwing for 82 yards and two interceptions, and he hasn’t seen the field since. Well, he’s reportedly starting this week after Emory Jones was injured during practice. Which version of AR-15 shows up in The Swamp may determine the outcome of the game.
As of this writing, Florida is just three-point favorites over Florida State (It seems Vegas finally recognized the Gators are just not a good team this year.) If I were a betting man, I think I’d still put my money on the ‘Noles though. With all going on in the UF program right now, I do not see the Gators getting it up for this game. Unless interim coach Greg Knox gets the good Richardson, FSU will be bowling in December, while Florida’s season will come to an end.
Florida State: 35, Florida 31
Ryan: The Gators and Seminoles rivalry has been one of trends for most of its history. Florida won the last two. FSU won seven of the eight from 2010-2017. UF won the six before that, the ‘Noles won five of the six before that stretch, and around and around we go.
Well, the Gators have a few conflicting trends to sort out this week, and whichever one wins out will likely decide whether UF gets to play Christmastime football.
Since Michael highlighted the predominant recent trend (you know, not winning), let’s continue with the bad. Florida began the season with a vaunted rushing attack, ranking among the best in the Power 5 through the first month of the season. Florida averaged 322.5 yards on the ground over its first four games, finding the end zone 13 times.
In the seven games since, Florida legged out less than 100 yards (twice) more often than it broke 200 yards (once). If you include only the six conference foes (so excluding FCS Samford), the Gators managed only 137.7 yards per game on the ground and scored six touchdowns. A once-historic running backs room still appears deep but now merely good.
Granted, the analytics nerd within me feels compelled to mention: Florida would of course run the ball less the more often they are trailing, which they have done a lot recently. However, the Gators’ average only fell from 43.25 attempts to 35.14 in the slump, not enough to justify the production devolving into a third of its peak.
Now, for the positive trend — when Richardson throws against a defense not named Georgia, he’s generally been pretty impressive. If you excuse the No. 1 Bulldogs as an outlier (which, let’s be real, is only fair), the redshirt freshman completed 18 of his 29 passes for 392 yards (13.52 per attempt), five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Of course, the easy argument for this is that South Florida deserves as much dismissal as Georgia as an outlier and Richardson plays late in relief, but trends are trends. If Richardson looks like the four-touchdown dynamo who nearly ended Louisiana State’s upset bid, the Seminoles could be in danger.
Florida’s seniors seem to be rallying around Knox, and I think Florida could look surprisingly spunky as it builds toward 2022, but it might not be enough for the in-form Seminoles
Florida State 31, Florida 30
Contact Ryan Haley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.
Contact Michael Hull at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.
Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.