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Florida vs. FSU, Game Thread: Can the Gators go out with a bang?

Florida faces the first good Florida State team in some time on hostile ground in Tallahassee.

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Syndication: Gainesville Sun Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

You know something? I think you, Florida Gators fan, probably know how to find a Florida-Florida State game being broadcast nationally on ABC — on a Friday night, because ESPN (and, if we’re making a safe bet, FSU) wanted to put this game on in an unusual time slot rather than just play it on Saturday like almost every college football fan breathing would prefer — without my or other aid.

But on the off chance you need some other means of watching this one on this Black Friday, or other games on days that are better for watching football, there’s still Sling TV.

The good news for anyone tuning in? This has the potential to be an excellent iteration of the Florida-FSU rivalry.

You can thank FSU’s revival under Mike Norvell finally coming to fruition for a lot of that. The Seminoles still are a ways removed from the nation’s elite, with their losses in October keeping them well out of College Football Playoff contention, but their play-to-play performance has been more exceptional than not in 2022, with Jordan Travis marshaling an explosive offense and a fast, hungry defense improving on a few squads of recent vintage that struggled to get stops.

Successful mining of the transfer portal is maybe the primary reason FSU has been able to get its sinking ship patched. It’s possible the five most important Seminoles on this year’s roster — that list might consist of Travis (Louisville), Trey Benson (Oregon), Johnny Wilson (Arizona State), Jared Verse (Albany), and Jammie Robinson (South Carolina) — all came to Tallahassee after previous stops, and undeniable that Norvell’s been able to compensate for some misses on high school recruits with players at second stops.

But the Seminoles have also shored up major weaknesses that emerged at the end of the Jimbo Fisher era, got worse under Willie Taggart, and plagued Norvell over his first two seasons at the helm. FSU’s 2022 will be its first winning season since 2017, and while it’s hard to be sure whether the Seminoles are truly ascending back to the dominance of much of Bobby Bowden’s tenure and a few years under Fisher, this is a feel-good stretch for the school and its fans.

That, in turn, might make it even more painful that Florida didn’t get to maximize the pain for FSU during its peak offensive efficiency under Dan Mullen. The Gators walloped FSU in both 2018 and 2019 with Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask throwing to a multitude of talented targets, but did not play in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic robbing Gators fans of a chance to see Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney go up against a defense that gave up 35 or more points six times in nine tries — among other things, some of which might be more important. And last year, Mullen was already fired — and Florida a mess — by the time FSU came to Gainesville; the Gators were the victors in a 24-21 tire fire of a game, but the result did not feel that much like asserting dominance, even though it featured a hilarious whiff from FSU on an onside kick attempt.

This year, FSU’s got a chance for payback, with Florida’s defense coming off a day of struggling to stop Vanderbilt and the Gators’ often impressive offense likely hamstrung by a lack of playmaking pass-catchers even if Ricky Pearsall is able to play. Anthony Richardson caping up to be great in perhaps his last collegiate game could make this a tighter game than the oddsmakers who have installed a double-digit line suggest, as could Florida’s trench play overwhelming an improving but not yet outstanding pair of lines for FSU. (Whomever attempts to block Verse is likely to have a long night, but if Florida can fend him off...)

It’s more likely, though, that the Seminoles will once again have the upper hand in a rivalry that could be headed back to heated contests and massive national significance.

That would make an upset all the more sweet, wouldn’t it?

Go Gators.