Over the last several years, Florida has played for an SEC championship and in multiple New Year's Six bowls. For Florida State, however, Friday night's contest may be the biggest game since Jimbo Fisher left Tallahassee for College Station.
The Seminoles will arrive at Doak Campbell Stadium on a four-game winning streak and with an 8-3 overall record. During its streak, FSU has beaten each of its four opponents by at least 25 points. Florida (6-5 overall), on the other hand, is coming off its first loss to Vanderbilt since 2013 and its first in Nashville since 1988.
Believe it or not, Friday night's meeting between the schools will be the first in Tallahassee since 2018. Florida has won the last three in the series, dating back to then. Prior to that, the Seminoles had won five straight and seven of eight.
Florida at No. 16 Florida State
When Florida Has the Ball
For Florida, Friday's contest may hang on the play of Anthony Richardson. Richardson passed for a career-high 400 yards in last week's 31-24 loss to Vanderbilt and provided a spark in last season's 24-21 win over the Seminoles. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Richardson is an incredible athlete. Despite his big passing day last week, FSU must force Richardson to win this game with his arm. For the season, Richardson has 2,351 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and eight interceptions but is completing just 55.7 percent of his passes. Among qualified SEC quarterbacks, Richardson ranks 12th in passer rating.
Richardson will be an intricate part of a rushing attack that averages 209.3 yards per contest on the ground. In the backfield, Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne form a nice tandem of running backs. The two have combined for 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Richardson and Johnson have each rushed for nine scores. Out wide, Justin Shorter, Ricky Pearsall, and Xzavier Henderson are a solid trio. Richardson and Shorter connected for a touchdown in last season's victory for Florida.
Over the last month, the Florida State defense has really found itself. The Seminoles rank in the top 20 nationally in total and scoring defense. FSU had gone 11 quarters without allowing a touchdown before Louisiana scored twice in the final period in last week's 49-17 victory for the Seminoles. Stopping the run will be key and that starts in the middle with Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper. On the edge, UAlbany transfer Jared Verse is one of the best in the business. The leading sack man for the Seminoles, Verse ranks second in the ACC with 7.5 sacks for the season while leading the conference with 14 tackles for loss. Patrick Payton has also provided a spark to the pass rush.
Tatum Bethune and Kalen DeLoach lead an improved linebacking corps for the Seminoles. A UCF transfer, Bethune ranks second on the team with 65 tackles. Headlining the secondary is safety Jammie Robinson. Robinson is the leading tackler for the Seminoles and one of the best in the ACC. Robinson finished with 18 tackles and an interception in last year's contest. DeLoach also had a pick for the FSU defense against the Gators. Greedy Vance, a Louisville transfer, leads the team with three interceptions.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Richardson won't be the only explosive athlete taking snaps from center on Friday night. Quarterback Jordan Travis has been the heart and the soul of the offense under head coach Mike Norvell and is in the midst of a career year. Completing 65.3 percent of his passes, Travis ranks second in the ACC in yards per attempt (8.9), third in yards (2,526), and third in passer rating (161.2). Although he has used his legs sparingly, Travis has 26 total touchdowns this season against just four interceptions. Johnny Wilson, a 6-7 transfer from Arizona State, and Ontaria Wilson are FSU's top two receivers. Johnny Wilson leads the team with 649 receiving yards and five touchdowns on nearly 20 yards per reception. Oregon transfer Mycah Pittman and tight end Camren McDonald must also be accounted for in the passing game.
Like Florida, however, the Seminoles will look to establish their ground attack. Behind perhaps its best offensive line in almost a decade, Trey Benson, Lawrance Toafili, and Treshaun Ward are a talented trio of backs. Benson is a punishing runner while Toafili is a speedster and excellent receiver. FSU averages 217 yards per game on the ground — tops in the ACC. The Seminoles rank third in the conference in scoring offense and second in total offense. They rank in the top 25 nationally in both categories.
Defensively, it has been somewhat of a tough year for Florida. The Gators rank just 10th in the SEC in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. To add insult to injury, Florida will be without linebacker Ventrell Miller for the first half on Friday. Miller was called for targeting in the second half of last week's loss to Vanderbilt. Miller ranks second on the team with 74 total tackles and is a leader for the Gators. Defensive end Prince Umanmielen and linebacker Amari Burney are the top two pass rushers for Florida. Burney is also tied with Jaydon Hill for the team lead in interceptions this season. Burney and Miller are part of a four-way tie for the team lead in forced fumbles with two.
Taking the ball away is something that Florida does well. The 21 takeaways are the most in the SEC. Trey Dean III and Rashad Torrence are a talented duo of safeties. Torrence's 76 tackles lead the team. For most of the season, Florida has gone the way of its defense. In victories this season, Florida is allowing less than 20 points per game compared to 36.4 in losses. Kickers Adam Mihalek for Florida and Ryan Fitzgerald for FSU have both struggled with consistency this season for otherwise solid special teams units.
Rivalry games are always big, but this one seems like it's much bigger for the Seminoles. A victory at Doak Campbell Stadium could not only have huge recruiting implications, but it would keep FSU's hopes of a 10-win season alive. With so much on the line, expect Florida to play inspired and give the Seminoles all they want on their home field. In the end, FSU is just a more complete team and will find a way to win.
Prediction: Florida State 31, Florida 24
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
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