After not playing in a bowl game last season, the Seminoles qualified for postseason play with their sixth win on the year last week against FCS opponent Alabama State. But 2019 hasn't been without its ups and downs. Florida State fired head coach Willie Taggart a day after the Seminoles lost to Miami earlier this month. But since long-time assistant Odell Haggins Jr. has taken over in Tallahassee, Florida State (6-5, 4-4 ACC) has won their last two games over Boston College and Alabama State.
Florida (9-2, 6-2 SEC) also is on a two-game winning streak after the Gators defeated Missouri on Nov. 16. Florida won't play in the SEC Championship Game next week, but with a victory, the Gators could potentially punch their ticket to a New Year's Six bowl for the second consecutive season. Last year, Florida defeated Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
Saturday will be the 64th meeting between the Seminoles and the Gators, and Florida holds the all-time edge 35-26-2. The Gators won last year's meeting in Tallahassee 41-14 to snap a five-game skid to FSU.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Florida -17
When Florida Has the Ball
The Gators' offense has struggled in the first half of their last two games when they faced Vanderbilt and Missouri. Part of it was likely due to the early noon kickoff. The slow start can also be contributed to the offensive line. In the win against Missouri, the Gators allowed four sacks after only giving up just 14 during their first nine games of the season. Florida also struggled to run the ball as they had just 29 yards before halftime.
One of the consistent bright spots for Florida this year has been the play of quarterback Kyle Trask. After replacing the injured Feleipe Franks in the win against Kentucky, Trask has thrown for 2,293 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. Trask's accuracy and efficiency have played a significant role in why Florida has won nine games.
Wide receiver Van Jefferson and tight end Kyle Pitts have also been huge contributors in the Gators offense. Jefferson has caught 38 receptions for 480 yards and four touchdowns, while Pitts leads Florida in receptions (46), receiving yards (566), and touchdown receptions (5).
When Florida State Has the Ball
The Seminoles have struggled this season when they've played against teams with excellent defensive fronts. Unfortunately, the Gators have one of the best front fours in the nation. Florida has 38 sacks on the year, which fifth in the FBS. Linebacker Jonathan Greenard has been one of the best players on the Gators defense with six sacks on the year. It could be a long day for quarterback James Blackman if his offensive line cannot protect him.
Florida State does have one of the best running backs in the conference in Cam Akers, who has rushed for 1,042 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 games. Akers will have to deal with the stout Gators defense that holds opponents to an average of 110.5 yards per game, which is 20th in the country.
One thing Florida State does have going for them is they have shown the ability to gain big plays in their passing game. The Seminoles are 30th in passing offense with 277.5 yards per game. However, the Gators' pass defense is also among the best in the country, as they're allowing 193 passing yards.
Florida State's weaknesses appear to coincide with the strengths of Florida. The Gators love to throw the ball down the field, while the Seminoles are 113th in the country in passing plays of 10 or more yards (116). Keeping Florida's passing game in check and forcing turnovers will be the key to winning on Saturday night in The Swamp.
Losing defensive tackle Marvin Wilson for the season certainly won't help the Seminoles stopping the run either. Rivalry games can always be unpredictable, but Florida enters this year's game as the better team on both sides of the ball. Playing in Gainesville at night should also give the Gators a lot of momentum in their final game of the regular season.
Prediction: Florida 37, Florida State 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.