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Florida vs. Texas A&M, Field Report: Gators reunite with yet another familiar foe

The Gators have a chance to get just their second win over head coach Jimbo Fisher on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama The Tuscaloosa News-USA TODAY Sports

There may be no greater villain for the Florida Gators in the last decade than Jimbo Fisher.

Sure, Fisher only won one national championship during his time with the Florida State Seminoles, and sure, that tenure looks a lot less dynastic and a lot more like a slow-motion disaster in hindsight, as the Seminoles struggle mightily to recover from the internal rot and external scorn that Fisher left them with on his way out the door. (This would mark him as both less successful at getting FSU to the mountaintop and less successful at pouring a lasting foundation than Urban Meyer was for Florida, making that oft-discussed comparison harder and harder to see as an apples-to-apples proposition.)

But Jimbo beat Florida — gave FSU players and fans their moment of “We just beat the damn Gators!” — with regularity and relish, rolling up a 7-1 mark against the Orange and Blue as a head coach and finishing his time in Tally with five straight wins, including two in lopsided fashion over SEC Championship Game-bound squads.

Florida has since righted the ship against its in-state rival, walloping FSU twice in two meetings under Dan Mullen. But the Gators have plenty to pay back Fisher for, and will continue their nascent series with Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station (noon, ESPN) with plenty of motivations.

Expect Kyle Trask’s hopes to beat the team he grew up pulling for to be played up most on the broadcast. Trask — who grew up in Manvel, Texas, about two hours from A&M’s campus — revealed earlier this week that not only is his family full of Aggies but that his name derives from Kyle Field. While the generally even-keeled Trask has not personally sounded like he’s ultra-motivated by that opportunity, instead drawing his desire from being overlooked by all but Florida as a recruit, it’s a ready-made narrative for ESPN to play with.

And Florida’s previous meetings with Texas A&M since the Aggies have joined the SEC also provide strings to tug on in the hopes of striking a chord.

Florida’s 2012 visit to College Station was for the Aggies’ first SEC contest, and would see Johnny Manziel both show much of the dazzle that ended up carrying him to that year’s Heisman Trophy and get shackled by a Will Muschamp-crafted defense that would be the Gators’ strength that fall, with the Gators staging a second-half comeback in a 20-17 win.

But while that 2012 game would be marked by beginnings, A&M’s return trip to Florida in 2017 was more about endings — and the bizarre “swamp green” uniforms Florida wore. Despite a stunning run by Feleipe Franks midway through the third quarter that gained a chunk of Florida’s 231 rushing yards and an 8-for-24 night passing by Kellen Mond, the Aggies came back from two different touchdown deficits in a 19-17 victory.

It was a second straight loss for Jim McElwain, who wouldn’t win another game at Florida — and for Kevin Sumlin, whose first loss at A&M was to the Gators, it was the high-water mark of a year that would end in his firing, as the Aggies improved to 5-2 on that night in Gainesville but sputtered to a 7-6 finish, with Fisher already hired by the time they fell to Wake Forest in the Sun Bowl by a 55-52 score.

It’s a safe bet that neither head coach’s tenure is in jeopardy this season, with Mullen piloting an ascendant Florida and Fisher rather well-insulated in College Station by a mammoth contract, so this game might resemble the 2012 edition — which ended up featuring two 10-win teams and the Heisman winner — more than the more recent meeting. But it’s Trask, surprisingly, who seems like that Heisman candidate — with versatile tight end Kyle Pitts as a sidekick who will draw his own hype — and not A&M’s Mond, who came to College Station as a four-star recruit and has been tutored by Fisher, renowned for his expertise with QBs.

And if the score settles under 40 points, with Florida averaging just under that by itself and Texas A&M coming off being blasted for 52 by Alabama, it’ll be a shock.