FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: University of Florida
Scenes from the #Gators' 40-17 win against the Seminoles in Gainesville, Fla. Photo by Courtney Culbreath

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: University of Florida

The Seminoles end their season pitted against their hated rivals in the Swamp, the Gators.

With the season fast approaching, and College Football rolling full-steam ahead with current scheduling and formatting, fans are eager to hit the stands and cheer on their favorite team. 2021 is a year of much anticipation after the Coronavirus pandemic crippled schedules and limited capacity in stadiums. The Florida State Seminoles were one such program affected by the 2020 season. Several games were cancelled, rivalries were sidelined, and a new coaching staff was stalled in their ability to effectively recruit and implement their scheme.

Drama ensued, injuries took course, and opt-outs effectively hindered what amounts to a legitimate Year 0 in the Norvell era. Think of 2020 as a glorified practice run. Going 3-6 (out of 11 games), the year showed the mountain set before this staff and program in their CLIMB back to the top. Still, there were highlights and gradual improvement over the course of the season, and legitimate offseason hype as the ‘Noles are seemingly back-on-track.

The offseason is still in-effect across College Football, but with the recruiting dead period now over, a season in 2020 to evaluate personnel and conditions within the program, and a vision now to sell to the team, the fans, and recruits, it is fair to say that 2021 is Mike Norvell’s Year 1.

The training wheels are off, and for the Seminole faithful, it’s now time to preview our upcoming season’s opponents.

Game Twelve: University of Florida

Head Coach: Dan Mullen (Head Coach record of 98-54 in Collegiate Football)

Mascot: Albert & Alberta

Conference: South Eastern Conference

2020 Record: 8-4

History vs Florida State: 

One of the great and most storied rivalries in all of College Football, the history between UF and FSU runs deeper than their first game. Florida State College (the predecessor to Florida State University) fielded a varsity football program from 1902 to 1904, but was disrupted by the Buckman Act. The Buckman Act rendered Florida State College to the Florida State College for Women. With the University transitioning to an all women’s university, the University of the State of Florida was formed in Gainesville, FL. This was the designated all-male University, and every man (including the varsity squad) from the Florida State College was transferred to the University in Gainesville. Their football program was established in 1906, and is considered the birth of Gator football. They renamed to the University of Florida in 1909.

In 1947, both universities returned to coeducational status, with the University in Tallahassee taking on it’s new name: Florida State University. FSU began their football program that same year, 41 years after UF inherited the original varsity program due to state law.

Over a decade later, and after years of reluctance from the University of Florida even participating in a series, the two programs finally established an annual series in 1958. As can be imagined, UF had a distinct advantage in the formative years of FSU football. Doak Campbell Stadium only had a capacity of 20,000 at the time the series began. However, FSU was committed to establishing their football presence in the state.

The series between UF and FSU favors the Gators at this time, leading all-time 36-2-26 against the Seminoles. Before Bobby Bowden arrived, the Gators lead 15-1-2. Bobby Bowden was integral to the growth of Florida State’s profile on the statewide and national landscape, and lead to all-time classics against the Gators. Games in this era included several memorable games between Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier. This includes the legendary “Choke at Doak” and other bouts that carried National Championship implications. While FSU began the run of National Championships between the two, UF’s first was earned by beating the Seminoles in the 1996 Sugar Bowl.

That being said, even Bobby couldn’t close the gap between FSU and UF. In his tenure, the series still favored the Gators 17-1-18.

It was the Jimbo Fisher era that built legitimate inroads towards closing the series between UF and FSU. In his time in Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher was 7-1 versus the Gators. While Dan Mullen took the mantle of head coach in Gainesville after Jimbo Fisher had left for Texas A&M (he has a 2-0 record over FSU post-Jimbo), Fisher was still slaying Gators as an Aggie, beating them most recently in a startling 2020 upset.

Mike Norvell took head coach responsibilities at FSU in 2020, but has not coached against the Gators due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the annual rivalry that season. It was the first year since 1958 that the two storied programs did not play one-another. Mike Norvell will have his first swing at the series in 2021.

Gator Storylines to Follow:

Is Emory Jones THE guy?

Emory Jones is the heir apparent after Kyle Trask declared for the NFL draft. With four seasons at UF under his belt, his roles and responsibilities have gradually increased while serving as the back-up. His run-game potential is unquestioned, averaging 5.6 yards the past three seasons. Meanwhile, the perception is that he has lacked in development in his passing potential, only going 18-32 in 2020. Those concerns have not been alleviated through fall camp in Gainesville. And, lacking the offensive weapons that Trask had in years past, the question that begs answering is whether Emory Jones can progress with live bullets in the regular season. Dan Mullen is the type of coach who maximizes and adjusts his offense to the strengths of his quarterback, so most should expect a new offensive identity with Emory Jones under center. Whether or not Emory Jones can open Mullen’s playbook and see growth in the passing game will determine his (and UF’s) season in 2021.

New Offensive Identity

Kyle Pitts (TE), Kadarius Toney (WR), Kyle Trask (QB), Stone Forsythe (OT) all were selected in this year’s NFL draft. With the significant playmakers now gone from this roster, Dan Mullen is refreshing the identity of the Gator offense in 2021. While the success of the offense under Emory Jones remains TBD, he does bring in transfers that are poised to make moves. Demarkcus Bowman (Clemson) appears to be the de-facto RB and can open the run game in explosive capacity. He’s backed-up by Lorenzo Lingard (Miami), another RB who has potential. With the likes of Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes gone, transfers Justin Shorter (Penn State) and Jordan Pouncey (Texas) are expected to step-in and substantiate their respective positions at wide receiver. Stewart Reese (Mississippi State) and Jean Delance (Texas) can step-in and play along the offensive line, opening up possibilities for Dan Mullen to rotate the pieces along the line as-needed.

There’s no clear answer to replacing a talent like Kyle Pitts, but the potential is there for TEs such as Nick Elksnis and Jonathan Odom. Regardless, it will be up to Dan Mullen and his staff on offense to take these components and develop an offensive identity that works. They will need to do so quickly if they wish to compete for the SEC in their own division.

Do or Die on Defense

Todd Grantham will be coaching for his coaching career this Fall, as the Gators might need to lean on returning talent while the offense is still learning their own identity. 2020 was a less-than-stellar campaign for the Gators on defense, ranking 83rd overall at the FBS level, and averaging 428 yards per game allowed. This includes a 71st ranked rushing defense and a 100th ranked passing defense.

These concerns weigh heaviest on a Gator fanbase knowing the offense in 2021 might be less capable of bailing their team out of tight games than in 2021 (where their offense ranked as one of the best in the nation).

Unfortunately for the Gators, fall camp has lead to injuries across the defensive line and the secondary. This includes injuries to grad transfer Daquan Newkirk (Auburn) and sophomore Jalen Lee (DT). While it does appear that Newkirk is good-to-go against FAU this Saturday, the pattern is disconcerting. UF has already added an additional transfer this fall camp, from Auburn DT Tyrone Truesdell (grad transfer).

The secondary is taking hits as well, with Junior cornerback Jaydon Hill sustaining a season-ending injury (torn ACL). Redshirt freshman Kamar Wilcoxson, a backup at nickleback, is out as well against FAU (and the forseeable future).

While there’s returning experience for UF, the recruiting isn’t substantiated enough to alleviate the concerns this season (and beyond). The good news for UF is they have key transfers that might be able to alleviate some of the pressure from returning talent. This includes DT Antonio Valentino (Penn State), DT Daquan Newkirk (injured, Auburn), Buck Brenton Cox (Georgia), and CB’s Jadarrius Perkins (Missouri) & Elijah Blades (Texas A&M). Still, if Grantham can’t make the most of a difficult situation, there remains the possibility that he could be shown the door by the end of the 2021 campaign.

Gameday Details

The Seminoles play in the Swamp on Saturday, November 27th, 2021 against the Florida Gators. Game time and television broadcast still TBD.

Also check out our other previews for:

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Jacksonville State

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Wake Forest

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Louisville

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Syracuse

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: North Carolina

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: UMass

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Clemson

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: NC State

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Miami (FL)

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Boston College

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-Ed Kennedy