At 1:51pm on Thursday July 13th Florida State Football Head Coach Jimbo Fisher took the podium at ACC Football Media Day. An hour earlier the next day, University of Miami coach Mark Richt would take the same podium without the burden of national title expectations and send a much different message. With Florida State ranked highest in the conference at #3 in the preseason polls, Jimbo fielded a variety of questions from reporters about his team’s opening contest against #1 ranked Alabama. In true coach fashion he responded by deflecting the importance of any one game on the schedule. Returning for his second season at his alma mater, Richt on the other hand prefaced his Q&A by letting the press know he was just excited to find out who was going to play where and who was going to earn their snaps. Jimbo talked about his returning Quarterback, Deondre Francois while Richt talked about Miami’s upcoming Quarterback competition. Fast forward to present day and everyone is singing a much different tune. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for what has been the most upside-down year in Florida Football.
The Preseason AP Poll put 4 teams from Florida in the Top 25 (Florida State #3, Florida #17, University of Miami #18, and South Florida #19). Florida State opened up their season with a 7-24 loss against Alabama. That defeat was compounded by the loss of their returning Quarterback Deondre Fancois to a season ending knee injury, leaving the Seminoles to rely on true freshman James Blackman to right the course. But before Florida State could get back out onto the field, Hurricane Irma made landfall and nearly every college program in Florida took a two week hiatus. With games cancelled or rescheduled, most Florida football programs entered week 4 of the season with only 1 game under their belt. Without the benefit of what are usually favorable preseason matchups, Florida State lost 27-21 to NC State and Florida just escaped Tennessee 26-20 while the rest of the state took care of their own business.
Enter week 5 of the college football season -this is where everything starts to go off the rails. A winless Florida State drops out of the AP Poll Top 25 for the first time all year while an undefeated Miami jumps up to the 14th spot and University of Central Florida doesn’t make the cut but receives votes for the first time all year. Two weeks later the unraveling continues. Three Florida teams remain in the Top 25 – Miami, University of South Florida, and University of Central Florida (UCF). Florida drops out of the rankings with a 3-1 record comprised of unimpressive victories. Little did Florida know that their last win was actually behind him. Four games and four losses later Florida’s championship hopes effectively are 0 and the Gators head coach Jim McElwain is fired.
While Florida forgot how to win and Florida State could never get on the right track, Miami suddenly didn’t know how to lose. The Hurricanes scored with 6 seconds to go to beat rival Florida State, then kicked a field goal with 4 seconds remaining to beat Georgia Tech the following week. Miami rattled off 4 straight wins by a total of 17 points before legitimizing their claim as heirs to the Florida football kingdom with a definitive 28-10 victory over #13 Virginia Tech this past week.
For starting the season with so many questions coach Richt sure has found some answers. His team sits undefeated at 8-0 with their biggest game of the season this Saturday as the Hurricanes host #3 Notre Dame and College GameDay for the first time since 2001. As echoes of the infamous Catholics vs Convicts rivalry abound, Miami has officially reentered the national spotlight their traditional Florida counterparts have been dominating the last decade. While “The U” needs year-to-year consistency to truly be back, this Saturday will without a doubt be Miami’s biggest in recent memory.
Currently Miami has the best shot of any Florida team to make the College Football Playoff – but should they be Florida’s favorite? Another team remains in the College Football Playoff hunt – an undefeated #18 University of Central Florida team. Unfortunately due to Hurricane Irma cancelling the Knights game against Georgia Tech, UCF’s best opponent to date has been #22 Memphis, who they obliterated 40-13. The rest of the schedule has been full of lackluster opponents who, to the Knights credit, they have manhandled. Without the benefit of nationally televised games or high caliber opponents UCF will likely need a miracle to sneak into a playoff spot but don’t let that distract you from the fact that they are ahead of traditional Florida powerhouses Florida and Florida State.
It’s been a really weird year in Florida football and it might become historically weird. Miami is on pace to finish the season as highest ranked football team in the state of Florida for the first time since 2004 and this may be the first year since 1986 that neither Florida or Florida State finish the season in the Top 25. 1986 was a long time ago. This Saturday is quickly approaching. The best team in Florida is up for grabs – who’s going to take it?