GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida has all sorts of winning streaks.
The top-ranked Gators have won a school-record 21 straight games, also the nation’s longest current streak. They’ve won 15 in a row against Southeastern Conference teams, 10 consecutive at home and eight straight against non-conference foes.
There’s one more that will take center stage this week: Florida (11-0) has won its last five games against rival Florida State (6-5), a run that seems to have the two programs considerably further apart than the 125 miles that actually separates them.
“There’s a lot of hatred,” Gators safety Ahmad Black said. “It started even before us. It goes way back to the earlier days. We’re just going to try to keep it going. We’ve won five straight, so we don’t want to be the team that loses the streak.”
The streak started in 2004, when the Gators rallied behind fired coach Ron Zook and became the first Florida team to win in Tallahassee since 1986.
Three of the four victories under coach Urban Meyer haven’t even been close, with Florida winning by scores of 34-7, 21-14, 45-12 and 45-15. The last two have been the most lopsided in the series since the Gators won by a combined score of 91-13 in 1972 and ’73.
“Two years they’ve ripped us,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Sunday. “I imagine they ripped everybody else the same way. We’re about like anybody else. We just have to play the best we can do. That’s all we can do.
“Not anybody is going to beat them with an imperfect ball game. They’re too good. We’re going to have to play the best we can play and they’re going to have to turn the ball over. Upsets are caused by turnovers. When a superior team, No. 1, is playing somebody not ranked, then the only thing that neutralizes it is turnovers.”
Bowden added that he believes the Seminoles will be able to compete—next year, after quarterback Tim Tebow graduates.
“It’ll eventually change,” Bowden said. “Nothing will last forever.”
The Seminoles became bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive year with Saturday’s 29-26 victory over Maryland, so the game means little to their postseason hopes. Then again, a victory in Gainesville would turn around another sour year that has many calling for Bowden to retire.
The Gators have more at stake. They need to beat FSU and Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game to secure a spot in the Bowl Championship Series national title game, and players are finding motivation in finally having their season-long goal in sight.
It also will be Senior Day for Tebow, linebacker Brandon Spikes, receiver Riley Cooper and several other key players—a daylong celebration for a group hoping to win a third national championship.
“This last opportunity, it’s very special,” Tebow said. “It’s how you want to have your last game at Florida.”
Florida’s season has been filled with close games, controversial calls and constant criticism of Tebow and the offense. The Gators escaped all of that Saturday by thumping Florida International 62-3. It was the kind of break Florida needed after a grueling SEC schedule.
Players and coaches quickly turned their attention to FSU after the drubbing, with more postgame talk about the Seminoles than the Golden Panthers.
Extending the streak dominated the conversation, too.
“It’s five? So it’ll be six,” guard Mike Pouncey said. “It’s a rivalry game, so everybody’s going to play a little bit harder.”
The rivalry used to be one of the best in the country, with bragging rights, recruiting battles and national championship hopes on the line almost every year. Players and coaches (Steve Spurrier at least) would exchange barbs and trash talk, there was almost always some pregame tension, maybe even a fight, and the games usually lived up to all the hype.
It hasn’t been that way lately, but Tebow insists the game hasn’t lost its luster.
“Since I can remember watching football, I can remember watching that game,” he said. “When Florida State beat Florida in 1996, we didn’t think we were going to go to the national championship. I remember my dad made me go outside and cut the grass and rake the leaves. The whole time I was raking leaves, I was crying because Florida State just beat Florida.
“That’s just one example of how special this game is. For Florida State and Florida, it’s not solely if you beat them, it makes your season a success. But it helps put a smile on your face.”
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.