Back in March, I did a three-city tour around Florida, stopping in Gainesville, Tallahassee and Miami with a very serious question:
When will the state of Florida rise again?
At the time, Florida State finished 2011 as the top-ranked team among the Big Three, at No. 23. Will Muschamp was getting heat from Florida fans after a disappointing season. Miami was under the cloud of an NCAA investigation. (And still is.)
Perhaps only Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher anticipated the rise back up would happen in just a handful of months. Indeed, No. 4 Florida and No. 10 Florida State meet Saturday as Top 10 teams for the first time since 2000. That probably has surprised many college football observers, but not Fisher.
“You have great programs, you have great availability of players, both groups have gotten good players and they’ve got a great staff and I feel we’ve got a great staff,” Fisher said Wednesday on the ACC coaches call. “Things are never as good as they seem, they’re never as bad as they seem. We knew we would be back, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit they’re back.”
Simply put, this rivalry is better when national championship stakes are on the line. Thirteen times between 1990-2000, both were ranked in the Top 10. They played for the national championship in 1996, after the regular-season finale between the two featured No. 2 Florida State upsetting No. 1 Florida.
In fact, six times in those 13 meetings the lowe- ranked team won the game. Several times national championship hopes were dashed -- aside from the title game in the Sugar Bowl. In 1997, Florida upset No. 2 and unbeaten Florida State, in a stunning upset, thanks to the way Steve Spurrier rotated his two quarterbacks.
Those were the good ol’ days. Then we saw a streak of five times within seven seasons that only one team was ranked headed into the game, taking away much of the luster surrounding the matchup, especially from a national perspective.
But now here we are again, with national championship hopes on the line for the Gators. If they can win and Notre Dame loses, there could be another potential SEC vs. SEC national championship game. If Florida State wins, the Noles would have their first three-game winning streak in the series since 1998-2000.
Fisher has yet to lose to Florida or Miami, going 5-0 against the two in-state rivals. In fact, the Seminoles have gone 1,091 days since losing to a team from Florida.
“When you’re both having outstanding seasons like we both are it definitely does (add something extra), because it has more national ramifications," Fisher said. “But our own personal deal, no. We take pride in playing against Florida much like they take pride in playing against us, but from a fan standpoint and everything that goes on, hopefully it’s back to where it should be, where it’s like this every year. It is a good thing, and I’m not against it, I promise.”