Florida’s football team has met both unquestioned success and abject failure over the last four years.
The highs: an SEC Championship Game appearance in 2016, a Peach Bowl victory in 2018 and a 9-2 record this year.
The lows: off-the-field issues, the firing of coach Jim McElwain midseason and a losing record in 2017, plus three losses apiece to Florida State and Georgia.
When the Gators host FSU on Saturday, their 22 seniors will have one last chance to leave their mark in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“I’ve had a long four years, and it’s been good times, bad times, but ain’t nothing like running out there your last time,” senior running back Lamical Perine said. “That’s the best feeling right there.”
As freshmen in 2016, these seniors contributed to an Outback Bowl win and a No. 14 ranking in the final AP Poll.
In those players’ second season, Florida looked poised for a breakout year, but a preseason credit card fraud scandal and a sleep-inducing offense led to one of the worst seasons in program history (4-7 record) and the hiring of Dan Mullen as coach.
As juniors, they helped a UF team that began the season unranked return to national prominence with a 10-3 season and a No. 6 ranking in the final Coaches Poll. They continued that momentum into this year, and a win against FSU would almost certainly lead to another New Year’s Six bowl appearance.
“We’ve got to go out there and give it our all for (the seniors). Send them out on top,” redshirt senior center Nick Buchanan said. “We haven’t beat FSU at home in a while, so it’s time for us to show up.”
Ten years, to be exact. That’s when Tim Tebow accounted for five touchdowns, and the No. 1 Gators cruised to a 37-10 victory. UF has won just two of the nine games vs. FSU this decade, both coming in Tallahassee (2012 and 2018).
“Obviously, growing up a Florida fan I never really liked FSU too much. Kind of hated them. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of bad blood or anything between us. It’s just a great rivalry, has always been,” redshirt senior punter Tommy Townsend said. “I’m just excited to go out there and get my final game in the Swamp and go out on a good note.”
One more game in Gainesville. One last chance to get a home win over the ‘Noles. One more opportunity to cement their legacy.
“Very emotional, teary-eyed,” Perine said on what he expects his final run through the tunnel to be like. “Just knowing it’s going to be my last time running out there, man, just going to be crazy.”
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected]