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Florida-Florida State: What's really riding on Saturday's game

By Matt Baker

GAINESVILLE — If misery loves company, at least the Gators and Seminoles have each other.

That's about the only positive in the least appealing Florida-Florida State showdown in decades. Both enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at 4-6 — the first time each team has had a losing record for this game since 1959.

"These teams always challenge each other, no matter what," UF interim coach Randy Shannon said. "So no matter what the record is and what the talent level is on both sides of the football, it's going to be a very hard, physical game that you want to be a part of."

That's true, but it doesn't change the lack of buzz surrounding the 62nd meeting between the programs. The most entertaining drama is off the field.

The Gators are still waiting on former Oregon coach Chip Kelly to decide between UF and UCLA, with an announcement expected in the next few days. The Seminoles are wondering whether they might have to ride the coaching carousel, too. Texas A&M is expected to make a strong run at coach Jimbo Fisher, although it remains unclear how seriously he'll entertain the idea of leaving Tallahassee.

Regardless, both sides had their own stumbles to get to this mutual low point in the series.

The Gators' depth chart is closer to an NFL roster (53) than college (85 on scholarship), thanks to suspensions and injuries. UF is still without injured quarterback Luke Del Rio — who will be honored on senior day after deciding not to pursue a sixth year of eligibility — and will likely be without another quarterback, Malik Zaire (knee).

Those factors, plus a defensive regression and coaching turmoil, put UF in a position with little to play for. The Gators need a win to avoid matching the 2013 team for fewest wins in a season since 1980. They're also trying to snap FSU's four-game winning streak in the series and knock the 'Noles out of bowl contention.

"There's not much to look forward to with this season," receiver Dre Massey said, "so we're looking forward to that."

The fact FSU is this close to having its 35-year bowl streak snapped is a stunning fall for a team that began the season ranked No. 3 nationally.

FSU's star-studded defense has underachieved. Injuries to the offensive line, receivers and quarterback only made matters worse. Assuming Fisher stays for another season, his coaching staff is likely in store for a significant shake-up.

But first, the Seminoles need to beat UF and Louisiana-Monroe (rescheduled to next week because of Hurricane Irma) in order to break an NCAA record with a 36th consecutive bowl appearance.

"I think that's important," Fisher said. "That's always one of the goals we can achieve. I think it's still out there..."

There's one other thing out there for both sides: A rivalry win. UF's seniors have never beaten FSU — a fact that was brought up in the locker room last week, moments after a 36-7 win over UAB.

Fisher is 6-1 against the Gators, and that one loss sticks with him. FSU's 2012 season was an unquestioned success: His 'Noles finished 12-2, claimed their first ACC title in seven seasons and won the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1995.

Fans were still upset because he lost to UF.

"That's what that game means," Fisher said. "Playing your rival does have meaning. It means a lot."

Even this year.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.


Florida State (4-6) at Florida (4-6)

When: Noon today

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

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