TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With a win Saturday, Florida State will be state champion in Florida again.
Don’t expect it molded on the side of a bowl ring again, but beating Florida this weekend would mark an unprecedented run of success against Florida State’s biggest rivals. It would be a fourth straight win against the Gators, and this season FSU extended its winning streak against Miami to seven.
The Seminoles have never held at least a four-game winning streak against the Gators and Hurricanes at the same time. This would be the first senior class with an 8-0 record against the two.
"Those are important games to us. We know the importance to our players, fans, alumni and school," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I’m proud we’ve played well in those games. Hopefully we can keep it up."
If it’s never been done before, then how long can this sustained run possibly last? There’s a reason Florida State has never been able to do it before -- since the 1980s, all three programs have experienced extended runs of success. It’s hard to complete a four-game sweep against a top-10 team.
Dominance in the Sunshine State has been cyclical the past four decades, and rarely have all three programs been championship caliber at the same time. Only three times have they all won 10 games in the same season, and really only during the early 1990s were all three consistently strong.
Florida State no doubt has taken advantage of its rivals' probation and bad coaching hires to seize the state. Both Will Muschamp (Florida) and Al Golden (Miami) were ill-fitting hires overwhelmed at their posts, and Golden was additionally saddled with NCAA issues. Muschamp cycled through offensive coordinators.
It’s been a coaching and talent mismatch for the most part the past several seasons. Much of the credit belongs to Fisher, who has outclassed his rivals as coach, recruiter and developer of talent. Outside of Alabama, no program is recruiting better than Florida State, which signed the most recent No. 1 class. And with the exception of the 2015 Miami game, Fisher’s had the best quarterback in every game against his rivals. He’s had back-to-back-to-back first-round picks at the position, and now Deondre Francois is developing into a fine talent as a redshirt freshman.
"Any time in a big game, the guy touching the ball all the time is crucial," Fisher said.
That’s the reason it would seem Miami has the best chance to halt the Seminoles' dominance. Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya will have an opportunity to go pro after this season, but he could opt to return for another year of seasoning under Mark Richt, who produced No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford at Georgia. It’s been an up-and-down season for Kaaya, who is a gifted passer once considered a potential top-five pick in the upcoming draft.
If Kaaya elects to stay, it could provide the necessary grooming time for top-100 recruits Jack Allison (No. 6 pocket passer in 2016 class) or N'Kosi Perry (No. 3 dual threat in 2017).
The Gators have freshman Feleipe Franks, but will he be ready next season? Another season with Luke Del Rio serving as the bridge to the future likely means another year in which Florida routinely struggles offensively. Four times the Gators have failed to score more than seven points against Fisher’s defenses. This season could mark the fifth time, and a banged up Florida defense might not be able to save its toothless offense.
Richt looks to have the better reinforcements heading his way, too. The Hurricanes tumbled a bit late in the recruiting rankings this past February, but Richt is putting together a top-10 class in his first full cycle. Jim McElwain has proved to be a good coach with consecutive SEC title-game appearances, but his first full recruiting class finished 12th, and this 2017 Gators class sits at No. 15.
Even with inferior talent the past few seasons, the Canes have been much closer to beating Florida State than the Gators. Miami just as easily could be on a three-game winning streak against the Seminoles. Second-half leads were blown in the three most recent losses for Miami.
The rivalry with Florida State means more for Miami than it does Florida, too. The calendar revolves around the Florida State game for the Canes. That’s not the case for Florida, which has a major rivalry in every month of the season.
With a win Saturday, Florida State fans will soak in the sunshine sweep, but history suggests streaks never last that long in this state.