The Florida Gators will enter Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon looking to do something that has only been accomplished once in the last 11 years in their annual series with the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles.
Since 2003, the favorite and/or unanimously higher-ranked team entering the Florida-Florida State game has ultimately won the contest – in fact, it’s happened on 10-of-11 occasions – with the Gators being the only team to pull off an upset victory, which they did on the road in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2004.
There are plenty of parallels to make between the 2004 and 2014 Gators, and the teams have been connected often throughout the season, with Saturday being the day when all of those similarities finally come to a head.
» UF in 2004 entered Tallahassee unranked with a 6-4 (4-4 SEC) record, going up against a top-10 FSU team. Due to Florida not playing its true season-opening game against Idaho, the Gators have the same 6-4 (4-4 SEC) record in 2014 and will take on a Seminoles squad ranked No. 3 nationally.
» Like in 2004 when Ron Zook led Florida against Florida State in his final game as the Gators’ head coach, Will Muschamp will have his last hurrah against the Noles on Saturday. Zook was 0-2 against FSU entering the game, while Muschamp is 1-2.
» The Seminoles had a penchant for winning by the skin of their teeth and losing by small margins in 2004, with five of their games decided by seven or fewer points ahead of their showdown with the Gators. This season, Florida State has played in six contests decided by a touchdown or less, but it has found a way to win all of those games.
Despite all the history in the rivalry and the connections that can be made from the past to the present, none of it will matter on the field Saturday.
Muschamp said matter-of-factly this week that he did not care for any comparisons to the 2004 season, and his Florida team does not need extra motivation to get up for in-state rival FSU.
“They don’t need fireworks to get ready for this one. They’ll be ready to go. Our guys are excited about this game,” he said Monday.
There are, however, two more parallels that could be drawn between 2004 and 2014, depending on how things shake out for the Gators on Saturday afternoon.
A win for Florida would mark the second upset in the series in the last 12 seasons, both of which would be Gators victories in the Noles’ backyard. It would also result in yet another Florida coach being led off the field on the shoulders of his players, just as Zook was more than a decade earlier.
“He ain’t got no choice,” said junior left tackle D.J. Humphries when asked by the Associated Press’ Mark Long if Muschamp would be carried off the field with a victory. “I’m too strong for him.”
It will be more than physical strength that will lead UF to a potential upset of FSU on Saturday. Florida has no choice but to impose its will against a confident Florida State team that has pieced together fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories in back-to-back contests and four of its last five games.
There is a reason upsets are rare when the Gators and Seminoles square off. Each team realizes the importance of the game and pulls out all the stops to earn the victory. And most of the time, it is the favored, higher-ranked, more talented and previously more successful team that prevails.
Just not always.
Photo Credit: James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times