In-state bragging rights are on the line once again when Florida travels to Florida State on Saturday, but this year is different for both programs. In Tallahassee, first-year coach Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles sitting at 6-2 in ACC play, good for at least a share of the Atlantic Division title. In Gainesville, it’s been a trying year for Urban Meyer, as the unranked Gators have been humbled by four losses. Have the tables finally turned in this series, which Florida has dominated for most of the decade? SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich -- who have a friendly little rivalry of their own going on in the blogosphere -- hash it out:
Heather Dinich: I know it’s tough over there in SEC land to actually talk about football, with so much off-the-field drama occupying your time these days, but I thought it would be a good time to revisit the state of the state in Florida. It appears the balance of power has the potential to shift now that Jimbo Fisher has taken over at Florida State and the Seminoles are the state’s lone ranked team in the BCS standings. They’re coming off an important Atlantic Division win over Maryland and were already talkin’ ‘bout the Gators before they left Byrd Stadium. With the way Florida has struggled this year, it looks like the perfect time for the Noles to reclaim the unofficial state championship. Is there any reason to think otherwise, C-Low?
Chris Low: Heather, you're right. There has been a flurry of activity off the field in the SEC that has kept me busy. You know the drill, though. You can probably hear basketballs bouncing in your ears now that the "real" season has begun in the ACC. Florida has been a glimmer of the team this season that piled up 22 straight wins during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Of course, it's hard to win in any league -- even the ACC -- when you don't have a passing game to speak of and aren't making any explosive plays in the running game. Still, there's some young talent on this team. The Gators just have to figure out who they are offensively. Don't get too ahead of yourself on the Seminoles being poised to reclaim the unofficial state championship. There's a reason the Gators have won six in a row in this series. Urban Meyer has never lost to Florida State, and the closest game the last three seasons was 27 points. Even in a down year, I could see how the Gators might be in the Seminoles' heads.
HD: They might be in their heads, but can they get in the end zone? Florida State has the No. 15 scoring defense in the country, allowing just 18.82 points per game. This isn’t App State, or any of the other cupcakes on Florida’s notoriously “grueling” schedule. I know the Gators have been playing well on special teams and defense, but there appears to be some weaknesses Florida State can expose. I think we can at least agree that the Gators aren’t invincible this year. A win over Florida would be huge for Fisher in his first year -- big for recruiting, big for national respect and the direction of the program. The only way for the Seminoles to re-establish themselves as one of the best in the country is to first own the state. What kind of an impact, if any, do you think would have on Florida’s program if they lost this one this year?
CL: Meyer makes a big deal out of beating his rivals, and he's 17-1 against the Gators' traditional rivals (Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Tennessee). You can bet that he and his coaches remind all those talented prospects in the state of Florida when they're recruiting them that they've never lost to Florida State or Miami. So, yes, this game always has and always will have some recruiting ramifications. But I think more important for the Gators this season is getting back to where they're playing with that same edge Meyer's teams have always played with and playing with the kind of confidence and precision that have defined his program. We've only seen that team in stretches this season. If they're going to put it together for an entire game, this is the game to do it.
HD: The same can be said for Florida State. The Seminoles have been hot and cold -- looking dominant against Miami and just good enough against Boston College and Maryland. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been injured and hasn’t lived up to the Heisman hype this year. Earlier this week, I said that it’s more important for Florida State to beat Florida this year than it is for the Noles to make an appearance in the ACC title game. Florida is the program to be measured by in the state -- even in a year in which the Gators aren’t ranked -- and I’m not sure the Noles can stack up just yet. I say Meyer gets ‘em again, this time 28-24. See? I could boost my picks percentage if I covered the SEC, too.
CL: Boost your picks percentage? Come on, you'd go the other way if you had to pick games in this league. Similar to the way the grind takes its toll on the actual teams in the SEC, it also gets to those of us who have to pick games in this league. The Gators should have a healthier Jeff Demps for this game, although he's still not 100 percent. Chris Rainey has also made a big difference ever since he was allowed to rejoin the team. At the end of the day, though, I have a sneaking suspicion that this game may mean a little more to Florida State this year than it does to Florida, so I'm going with the Seminoles at home, 24-17, and Fisher ending Florida State's drought in this series in his first season as head coach. But, hey, remember that Fisher did cut his teeth in the SEC when he was at LSU under Nick Saban. Imagine that, Heather. You're picking the SEC team, and I'm picking the ACC team. What's next? The ACC making a run at the SEC in off-the-field scandals? Oh yeah, I forgot about that little deal at North Carolina earlier this year.