Florida started the year with high hopes under head coach Billy Napier, but a challenging schedule has left the Gators at an average 6-5 record.
After a frustrating defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores, UF is looking to close out year one of the Napier regime on a high-note against one of its biggest rivals. The Gators (6-5, 3-5 SEC) will travel to Tallahassee to face the Florida State Seminoles (8-3, 5-3 ACC) in a Sunshine State rivalry showdown on Black Friday.
Florida has won the last three meetings with FSU, including a 24-21 victory in the Swamp last season. Before the current UF winning streak, the Seminoles rattled off five-straight wins over the Gators under current Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher.
After dominating the early 2010s under Fisher, including a national championship in 2013, Florida State fell on hard times, with four-straight losing seasons. Now, under third-year head coach Mike Norvell, the tide is beginning to turn for the Seminoles.
FSU is the No. 16 team in both the Associated Press top 25 and College Football Playoff rankings. Norvell’s team is bowl eligible for the first time since 2019, and the Seminoles have won at least eight games for the first time since 2016.
“A ton of respect for Coach Norvell and his team and how it's improved,” Napier said Monday. “When you watch the tape, you see that improvement year one to two to three, and certainly they're playing really good football right now.”
FSU started the season with a 24-23 win over Louisiana State — now the No. 5 team in the CFP rankings — and won its first four games of the year. After a difficult three-game losing streak in October, the Seminoles have dominated their last four games with an average margin of victory of 33.5.
The Gators will be severely shorthanded Friday, especially at the wide receiver position. Two regular starters — Justin Shorter and Xzavier Henderson — are out, and reserves Marcus Burke and Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman will also miss the game. Junior Ricky Pearsall, who leads the team in receiving touchdowns, is also questionable for the game.
Redshirt freshman Daejon Reynolds, fresh off a career-high eight catches for 165 yards and two scores in Nashville, will make his first career start. True freshman Caleb Douglas will make the second start of his college career alongside Reynolds.
Florida will also need to resurrect its ground game after a dormant performance against Vanderbilt, rushing for only 45 yards. FSU’s run defense is an average unit nationally, allowing 138 yards per game — 53rd fewest in the country.
Florida State’s offense, led by rising star offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, will stress Florida’s inconsistent defense. The Seminoles are led by fifth-year junior quarterback Jordan Travis, one of the best signal callers in the ACC. Travis has 27 total touchdowns this season and just four interceptions.
Travis plays behind one of the best Florida State offensive lines in years and has a supporting cast full of talented playmakers. Sophomore running back Trey Benson, a transfer from Oregon, leads the Seminoles in rushing with 854 yards and talented fourth-year sophomore Treshaun Ward is second with 538.
Sophomore receiver Johnny Wilson, who played alongside Pearsall at Arizona State, leads FSU in receiving with 649 yards. Wilson’s 6-foot-7-inch frame makes him a unique matchup problem on the perimeter.
Impact transfers have been key to the Florida State defense, as well. Linebacker Tatum Bethune played at Central Florida before transferring to Tallahassee, and he leads the Seminoles with 36 solo tackles. Edge rusher Jared Verse arrived from the University of Albany — an FCS program — but has looked at home in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a team-high 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson may be playing his final game for the Gators, as the redshirt sophomore’s NFL future looms. The Gainesville product is seen as a potential first-round pick and may declare for the draft after this season.
Friday will also be one of the last games for linebacker Ventrell Miller in a Florida uniform. Miller will miss the first half of the game serving a targeting suspension from the second half against Vanderbilt, but the sixth-year defender will have another opportunity to lead the Gators on the national stage.
Kickoff from Doak Campbell Stadium is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ABC.
Contact Topher Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. He also covered Florida football lacrosse for the paper and loves to follow MLS soccer and professional lacrosse.