We hear a lot about rivalries in sports. The blind rage and hatred that fans bring to these contests raise them above mere sporting spectacle. For many fan bases, a loss to a rival can ruin an entire season. On the professional level, multiple meetings in a season can muddy the bragging rights. But in college football, one game against your rival is everything. But how do you judge a rivalry across an athletic program’s fan base?
The Florida-Florida State duel is in an interesting place right now. Bragging rights abound in both Gainesville and Tallahassee depending on the time of the year and the sport. That’s healthy for the state, healthy for the rivalry, and healthy for the fans. But for the undisputed flagship athletic program in the state and one of the top five in the country, it is never enough.
For many, the rivalry begins and ends on the gridiron. Football sucks all the oxygen out of debates between relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. FSU’s four-game winning streak and the utter destruction of Florida’s offense the past two meetings taints everything. To say this November’s meeting is crucial for Florida and Jim McElwain is an understatement. The Gators have never lost five in a row to that school out west. Despite FSU’s recent run of dominance, this rivalry is about as even as it gets. Both schools have three national titles, three Heisman Trophy winners, and unparalleled success producing future NFL talent including projections in this week’s upcoming draft. Florida leads the all-time series 34-25-2 but this has been as even as any college football rivalry in the country. However unless UF can break through soon in a big way, it isn’t going to feel that way to Gator Nation.
After the nadir of November’s football loss, a December loss in men’s basketball put Gators fans on the ledge. It was the third straight win by Leonard Hamilton’s gang, tying the longest Gators losing streak in the rivalry. That means that both football and men’s hoops have matched their longest losing streaks to FSU. But this spring has re-tipped the balance of power in the rivalry back towards the Gators and it began with March Madness. The Gators’ men’s hoops run to the Elite Eight for the fifth time in seven seasons was a welcome salve to the wounds of the fan base. It is certainly troubling that Florida has dropped three in a row in the series and that for much of the season, the Noles were regarded as the better team. But in the end in March, FSU bowed out of the NCAA Tournament early (again) and the Gators kept dancing (again). Two national titles, five Final Fours and an overall series lead of 43-24 keeps men’s basketball strongly in the Gators column.
Since Florida’s softball arrival, it is safe to say the Seminoles have been dominated. After last week’s walk-off win by the Gators softball team, Florida has won 17 of the past 18 meetings between the programs. In the short history of this particular rivalry (Florida only began playing the sport in 1997; FSU dates back to 1978), Florida leads the all-time series 24-14. And of course the Gators have won two Women’s College World Series titles in seven trips, while FSU has nine trips but has never seen ultimate glory.
On the flip side, the baseball rivalry has been one that tilts FSU’s way over the course of history. The Noles lead the all-time series record 128-116. They’ve been to 21 College World Series (to Florida’s 10) and finished runner-up three times (Florida twice). But recently, Kevin O’Sullivan’s bunch has completely flipped the script. That was punctuated by Florida’s win in Tallahassee last week that completed a season sweep. The Gators have won 10 of the past 11 meetings. Since O’Sullivan arrived in Gainesville in 2008, Florida has five CWS appearances to FSU’s three. The hammer blow was delivered last season when the Gators ousted the Noles in the NCAA Super Regionals and advanced to the CWS. O’Sullivan’s arrival has flipped this rivalry squarely into the Gators column.
The vast majority of Olympic sports favor the Gators both over time and in recent history. Florida is the only school in the country to be ranked in the top 10 of all Division I athletic programs since the inception of the rankings 32 years ago. The Gators also boast eight straight top-five finishes. UF has 31 NCAA titles to FSU’s seven. FSU has been good overall but not close to matching Florida’s elite excellence. However, there are troubling recent trends. In women’s soccer, FSU has become a juggernaut. The Noles won it all in 2014 and have appeared in the College Cup nine times since 2003. Meanwhile the Gators lone title was in 1998 and they haven’t made the final four since 2001. Florida State has also pulled ahead in women’s hoops. The Seminoles made the Elite Eight this season and have three trips since 2010. Florida has one way back in 1997. Even women’s volleyball, as steady a bastion of Gators dominance as there is, saw heartbreak at the hands of FSU in this year’s NCAA tournament.
As the spring sports season inches toward its conclusion, Gator Nation can hold its head high in any rivalry talks around those summer barbecues and vacations. The overall strength of the program more than makes up for the recent run in football. The NCAA titles scoreboard of 31-7 assures that. Come November though, Florida truly needs a win to stifle the momentum swelling in Tallahassee.