December 6, 1982.
That was the last time a state of Florida team did not appear in the AP Top 25. The success streak of Sunshine State ended this week, as losses by Florida and Florida State dropped them out of the rankings. The Gators are young and talented, but Will Muschamp is trying to navigate an SEC schedule with freshman quarterbacks right now. FSU has lost three in a row, and the Seminoles must find a running game and some pass defense if they want to save the season. New Miami coach Al Golden is trying to manage an inconsistent team on the field while also dealing with a major NCAA infractions scandal. South Florida was ranked after a 4-0 start that included an upset over Notre Dame, but the Bulls got blown out by Pittsburgh in their last game. UCF and Florida International have played solid football this year, while Florida Atlantic may not win a game in 2011. Despite having talented rosters, the Florida schools have struggled over the first half of the college football season.
Who is the best team in the Sunshine State?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I realize they’ve struggled big time the past two weeks, but I still believe the Florida Gators are the best team in the state of Florida. Yes, the Gators have lost two straight by a combined score of 79–21, but those two losses came against two of the best three teams in the nation, Alabama and LSU. And Florida was forced to go with a true freshman at quarterback in the second half of the Bama game (Jeff Driskel) and the entire LSU game (Jacoby Brissett). Florida State, on paper, has a quality team, but the Seminoles’ only two wins of the season have come against UL-Monroe and Charleston Southern. South Florida has a very good win at Notre Dame, the best win of any of the Florida schools, but the Bulls were also manhandled by a mediocre Pitt team last Thursday night. Florida is obviously having some issues on offense, which is to be expected with true freshman quarterbacks, but the Gators still have some playmakers on that side of the ball, and the defense is still solid. This is still a team capable of winning the SEC East and playing for a league championship.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Florida State has lost three in a row, I’m going to have to say the Seminoles are still the best team in Florida. Florida State’s three defeats have been to solid teams – Clemson, Wake Forest and Oklahoma – and by a combined 20 points. Although Clint Trickett has played well at times for the Seminoles, getting EJ Manuel back in the lineup will help. In addition to turnovers and penalties, a lack of success running the ball has hurt the Florida State offense. The Seminoles are also playing a lot of young players, and the experience from the first half of the season should pay off over the final seven games. The defense hasn’t quite played up to preseason expectations, but ranks 10th nationally in total defense. The schedule is favorable the rest of the way, which should allow Florida State to finish with a 9-3 record. Each of the big four in Florida has its issues, but if the Seminoles could stop beating themselves, they would be in good shape.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I will give the Florida Gators a slight edge over South Florida and Florida State (in that order). It is true that for the first time in 472 polls, no team from the state of Florida was ranked in the AP Top 25. However, life isn't nearly as bleak as some Sunshine state writers might be implying. Miami is in rough shape (2-3) due to extenuating circumstances and injuries, so Al Golden cannot be blamed (too much) for the 82nd ranked defense. Florida State has lost four times in six games to Wake Forest, but clearly FSU left every ounce of emotion on the field against Oklahoma and Clemson. South Florida looked great in its 4-0 start before getting destroyed by Pitt on national television. The Gators have the most talent of any team it the state and there is no shame to losing to Alabama and LSU in back-to-back weeks (even if they did get completely manhandled). We will definitively know the answer to this question after the Gators' next two games against Auburn and Georgia. Should they win both, it obviously is still the Gators' state. But should they stumble, YOUR South Florida Bulls could easily claim top Sunshine billing with UConn, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Syracuse as their next four.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I would have selected Florida until the John Brantley injury, but trying to play in the SEC with freshman signal callers is very difficult. I’ll go with Florida State because Jimbo Fisher’s crew should be able to correct many of the mistakes and penalties that caused three FSU losses in a row. The Noles need to settle on one running back and not put so much pressure on quarterback EJ Manuel, but they have the athletes to salvage the season. South Florida can score points, but the Bulls can play inconsistent defense that may cost them in the Big East race. Miami obviously started the Al Golden era with a cloud over this season, and the Hurricanes play at USF and FSU in consecutive November weeks in games that could decide their postseason fate. It’s not pretty in the Sunshine State right now, but the talented rosters of Florida schools will allow for things to turn around quickly.
The Sunshine State may produce the best college football talent in the country, but it has not produced the best college football teams this season. Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Florida, Central Florida, Florida International and Florida Atlantic have all had disappointing seasons thus far. If there were a Florida Class FBS playoff, however, the Gators from Gainesville would chomp their way to the title of Sunshine State champ. Florida's blowout losses to Alabama (38–10) and at LSU (41–11) were embarrassing, but nothing to be ashamed of. Those are the best two teams in the country. Even with a true freshman at quarterback — either Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel — UF has the talent, speed and depth to beat out the rest of the state. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are fast even by Florida standards; and since both FSU and USF have struggled against the run recently, Charlie Weis would be able to exploit the weakness. Miami is too inconsistent, while UCF, FIU and FAU would be overpowered by a strong Gator defense. Right now, Will Muschamp has the best team in the Sunshine State.