Seminoles-Gators rivalry still matters
GAINESVILLE - It is one of the more unremarkable matchups in the Florida State-Florida football series. For the first time since 1986, the Seminoles and Gators are both unranked entering their rivalry game, which kicks off Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. "This game still matters,'' Gators senior quarterback John Brantley said. What matters more is the direction of each program. The Gators (6-5) needed a rally against Furman just to become bowl eligible. For Coach Will Muschamp, his first first year at the helm has been downright painful. Losing against FSU probably would make it UF's least successful season since the 1979 mark of 0-10-1.But if the Gators win, according to senior running back Chris Rainey, that "would probably override all of the losses.'' FSU (7-4), meanwhile, is sputtering home after earning a top-five ranking in September and entertaining thoughts of a national championship. A victory tonight would mean a second straight sweep of FSU's state rivals (UF and Miami), no small accomplishment for Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. "Winning games like this is one of the reasons you coach,'' Fisher said. "These are the games you target. It helps what you do in recruiting.'' Ah, recruiting. The game within Saturday night's game. The Seminoles and Gators might be national afterthoughts, but they have consensus top-five recruiting rankings as we close within six weeks of National Signing Day. For FSU and UF to return as conference champions and BCS bowl contenders, those are the battles that must be won. "Both teams have a chance to keep the recruiting momentum going into December,'' ESPN national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. "Despite Florida's poor season, the Gators should be fine because their new staff can recruit and they have glaring needs, which means opportunity to play early as a selling point for recruits. "Florida State has a ton of great commitments. Many programs seem to be nipping at the heels of their commitments. Jimbo Fisher has to find a way to keep them committed.'' The Seminoles have oral commitments from the nation's best propsect, defensive end Mario Edwards of Denton, Texas, although Newberg said Oklahoma and LSU have entered the picture, and the nation's best quarterback, Jameis Winston of Hueytown, Ala. St. Petersburg Lakewood defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., also has committed to FSU. The Gators, meanwhile, have made a concerted effort to acquire more offensive power players, gaining oral commitments from Armwood running back Matt Jones and Land O'Lakes tight end Kent Taylor, along with offensive linemen D.J. Humphries of Charlotte, N.C., and Jessamen Dunker of Boynton Beach. FSU and UF both are in the running for Berkeley Prep athlete Nelson Agholor and Miramar cornerback Tracy Howard. How much will tonight's result act as a swing vote for recruits? "When Jimbo Fisher's team blew out Miami and Florida last year, that made quite an impression on recruits,'' said Brian McLaughlin, college football recruiting writer for The Sporting News. "That momentum carried into this class. FSU has a chance to make a statement to recruits this weekend as it would be the clear-cut state champion two years in a row. "Florida, on the other hand, I just don't see huge momentum coming only from this game. I know it's a bragging rights thing, but they are seriously in rebuilding mode. I think the writing is on the wall for next year. The program will probably struggle on the field again, at least offensively. Beating FSU would be a nice accomplishment, but I don't think it would as huge as it would be for FSU if the Seminoles pull it off.'' Neither Fisher nor Muschamp believe that the result of one game is a deal-maker or deal-breaker in long-term recruiting relationships. "Generally, these kids grow up on one side or the other,'' Fisher said. "What kids want now, just like fans, is something quick. They want it now, they want to get on the field, they want to win, they want to get out of college and go to pro ball. They want to find the place that gives that to them.'' "I don't think three hours on a Saturday makes the decision for a young man,'' Muschamp said. "If it does, I don't know if you want them in your program anyway.'' Fisher said he likes FSU's direction, even after a wretched 14-13 home loss against Virginia. The Seminoles have suffered a "drastic number of injuries'' and had "a bunch of young guys having to play,'' adding up to inconsistency. Fisher said it's "not an excuse, just a fact.'' Muschamp said he's "certainly not pleased with the season in any respect.'' Regardless of the circumstances, whether it's injuries or youth, "at the end of the day, they're excuses.'' Whether it's recruiting, program optimism or just heading into bowl season on the right foot, the Seminoles and Gators both need a victory. The rivalry game might be far off the national radar, but it still matters.