Last week, we covered the Florida-Georgia rivalry, and in coming weeks we'll continue the series.
Last week, I called Georgia Florida's biggest rival, and I stand by that. Florida State, however, is a very close second. While the Florida-Florida State game lacks the tradition of heartbreak and disappointment of the Georgia game, it makes up for in proximity. While there will always be pockets of fans of other schools blended throughout the state, there are more likely to be Seminole fans in your immediate vicinity. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.
My high school drafting teacher once said, "Florida State has always been, is now, and will always be an all girls school." While not technically accurate, I have to admire the sentiment. FSU was created by the same legislative act that established the University of Florida in 1851, but did not admit students until 1857. In 1905, the Buckman Act reorganized higher education in the state of Florida, and established Florida State College (as it was known at the time) as the state's college for women. Male students would not return until after World War II.
Located in Tallahassee, Florida State's 450 acre campus is nestled in the urban confines of the state capital. Ranked number 102 by US News & World Report, FSU is a solid school academically, with many nationally recognized programs including Library & Information studies and Fine Arts (which includes the FSU Flying High Circus), and has produced many distinguished alumni. FSU also has several international programs that are popular with students throughout the State University System of Florida.
Doak Campbell Stadium is located on campus, and has a capacity of 83,000, though they seem to have many "aluminum outs." In 2004, the field was named in honor of long time coach, Bobby Bowden, only to have the occasion sullied by outgoing Florida coach Ron Zook.
The use of the Seminole nickname has drawn some criticism related to perceived exploitation of Native American imagery, however the Seminole Tribe of Florida has approved of the use, and supported Florida State in an effort to gain an exemption from the NCAA policy prohibiting teams with Native American nicknames from participating in post-season play.
Florida State had only defeated the Gators twice before Bobby Bowden arrived in Tallahassee. Since then, the series is tied at 18 wins apiece. FSU's rise to national prominence came at the same time that Florida was struggling with probation. Even after Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater the 'Noles seemed to have Florida's number, as the Old Ball Coach was incapable of winning at Doak Campbell, even with a four touchdown lead or the best team in college football. And also this.
The Seminoles still trail in the series overall 20-33-2, and it is easy to see why they would hate the Gators. Although they are a good school Florida is just a little better (consistently ranked in the top tier of US News & World Report rankings and a member of the Association of American Universities). It also probably irks FSU that it took the threat of legislative action to force the two schools to play to begin with, and then they went 0-5-1 over the first six games. Then there was the 1966 game, where a late game pass into the end zone was ruled out of bounds instead of the go-ahead touchdown. (The incident was so fiercely disputed that former FSU president T. K. Wetherell talked of having their media guide changed to reflect the game as a win.)
When Florida State became co-educational in 1947, they immediately established a football program, but it took 11 years and the threat of a state law forcing the teams to play to set up the first meeting between the Gators and 'Noles. After the Gators 16-2-1 start, the series has slowly evened out, though Florida has never gone more than four years without a win, while FSU has had two losing streaks of six games since 1977.
While there isn't a conference championship on the line, over the last three decades, there have been national championship hopes on the line. Both teams were ranked in the top 25 for every meeting between 1990 through 2000, including two rematches in the Sugar Bowl. Beyond title implications are the recruiting and bragging rights implications. As the top two state university football programs, they frequently battle over the same recruits. Split loyalties can divide coworkers, neighbors and families. As anyone who has been on the losing side of this game can tell you, the more obnoxious opposing fans can make life miserable for a full year, and the fact that they are your coworkers, classmates, friends, neighbors and family members makes them that much harder to avoid.
While the Georgia game may be more important to Florida, it is hard to argue that if the Gators could only win one game in a year that a lot of Gators' fans would pick FSU for that one win.