What began as a very promising season for Florida has since devolved into one of profound unevenness and mediocrity. Meanwhile, their in-state rivals have quietly put together a solid season- they’re ranked and rising, all the way up to #16 in this week’s CFP rankings. Regardless of how the two teams have fared up to this point, there’s plenty on the line on Friday night, and a rivalry like this one is almost sure to produce a competitive contest. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this classic Sunshine State matchup.
Florida Vs. Florida State Odds
Florida State is favored by 9.5 points in this one, a pretty big number but not shocking considering the seasons each team has had, and the significance of home field advantage in a game like this. The points total is set at a less eye-popping 58.
Florida Vs. Florida State Prediction & Pick
After that big statement win over Utah to start the season, it’s really been a series of steps forward and then back for Florida in year 1 of Billy Napier’s tenure as head coach. They’ve been just .500 since then and while many of their losses have been to some of the very best teams in the country- think LSU, Tennessee, Georgia- that was not the case this past weekend as they dropped a pretty unacceptable one to Vanderbilt. It’s not a total disaster, like the infamous 2017 team- these guys have already clinched bowl eligibility. It’s just getting eerily close to last year’s team that finished the year 6-7 after a disappointing bowl loss to another in-state neighbor, UCF. If there’s one thing a new coach wants, it’s progress from the year before, so a rivalry win this week would go a long way towards making that happen.
On the other hand, Mike Norvell’s Florida State team certainly has taken a leap in year 3 of his administration; they’ve clinched their first winning season since 2017, ending a shocking and really just embarrassing run of mediocrity or worse. They’ve done it with the nation’s 13th-best scoring defense (18 points allowed per game) and the 23rd highest-scoring offense in the nation (35.4 points per game). FSU has had a really balanced attack on offense; three players are tied for the team lead with 6 touchdowns from scrimmage, and two more have found the end zone five times. It’s a similar story with yardage- four players have gained over 500 yards, but none have cracked 1,000. The backfield duo of QB Jordan Travis and running back Trey Benson has led the way, but it’s been a true team effort.
PFF thinks both of these teams are actually underrated, or at least better than their records indicate. They have Florida ranked inside the top-30, and Florida State all the way up in 7th place of their ratings. FSU is surely the better team, but these are two solid groups. When that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine such a large spread getting covered in a rivalry game like this; I’ll take Florida +9.5 in this one, although it’s not necessarily my favorite bet of the season. Points wise, I like the over- it’s a big game and both sides will be firing hard, and PFF sees it as a matchup between top-15 offenses. The Gator defense should be the worst unit of the game, and they should allow the home team to rack up enough points to drive the total over.
Florida vs FSU Key Matchups
How will the Florida offensive line hold up against this FSU front seven? Will FSU be able to run the ball? Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Florida vs Florida State below.
Florida Offensive Line vs. FSU Front Seven
For once, I’m going to cover a Florida game without centering things around Anthony Richardson, as the talented QB has ended up being pretty thoroughly disappointing this year. Instead, we’ll talk about the next most important position group on the field- the offensive line. PFF loves the job the Gators’ front five has done, placing them just outside the top-30 in pass blocking rankings while slotting them in at #6 for run blocking. Louisiana transfer O’Cyrus Torrence has been an absolute beast at right guard, he has an overall offense grade over 90, propped up by an otherworldly run blocking grade of 92.6. He also hasn’t committed a penalty all year. Austin Barber has also been pivotal, playing at both tackle positions (although primarily on the right) while garnering a run-blocking grade in the mid-80s. Unshockingly, PFF sees left tackle Richard Gouraige as the team’s best pass protector; he’s only allowed 1 sack all year and sports a pass blocking efficiency of over 98%.
PFF also says that FSU is the 26th-best run defense in the country, but only the 40th-best pass rushing unit- a relative weakness for a team that grades out so well in so many areas. If Florida is able to slow them down, it could give Richardson the opportunity to find the higher level of play that so many still believe him to be capable of. Jared Verse has been awesome for the ‘noles in pass rush though, earning a PFF grade of 86 due in large part to a ridiculous win rate over 23%. He leads the team with 7.5 sacks, and has created 20 additional pressures. Beyond him, however, there’s not a lot going on- Florida may be able to have success by sending double teams or other blocking schematic devices his way. As far as the run game goes, versatile safety Jammie Robinson has been by far the best, even while playing the most run defense snaps of anyone on the team; he has a crazy PFF run-stopping grade of 87.8. An all-levels player like himself can be invaluable in slowing down dual threat QBs, something to look out for on Friday night. The linebacking duo of Tatum Bethune and DJ Lundy has also been at the center of the FSU run-stopping unit; both have an impressive average depth of tackle hovering just above or below the 2.5-yard mark. The FSU defense has plenty of talent in the front seven, if they’re at their best on this big gameday they’ll be able to disrupt a really strong Florida offensive line.
FSU Rushing Offense vs. Florida Run Defense
Led by Trey Benson, who is averaging a ridiculous 7.1 yards per carry, FSU’s offense is piling up a stellar 217 rushing yards per game thus far. Interestingly, PFF grades their runnersas the 8th best such group in the nation, but has the offensive line just outside of the top 40 for run blocking- still solid, but an implication that the backs themselves have been driving the success. Treshaun Ward has had a bit of an up and down season both in terms of injuries and his own play, but he has still been a significant contributor while picking up only .5 fewer yards per carry than Benson. Lastly, Lawrence Toafili has been in the mix with 422 rushing yards to go along with 5 touchdowns, a number matched by Ward and Jordan Travis, and just barely exceeded by Benson. While there’s a clear front-man for the FSU ground game, there are multiple players who can hurt an opposing defense.
While FSU will want to run early and often, allowing them to assert ground dominance at home is a sure path to disaster for the Gators. This game could easily start and end on the ground for Florida’s defense, so it’s imperative for them to slow down the run and force FSU to rely more than usual on their still efficient but less prolific passing game. Unfortunately, the run defense is one of the Gators’ weakest units, as it ranks just inside the top 60 of PFF’s rankings. D-lineman Desmond Watson has been a real leader, with the team’s only run defense grade over 80, 14 run-stops, a forced fumble and an average depth of tackle of just over a yard. Linebacker Ventrell Miller has also been a key contributor with a stop percentage of 13.1% and no penalties accepted against him all season. Beyond these two, there’s solid run defenders up and down the front seven, with the second linebacker spot being the only notable hole. If they’re able to all play their best, they have a shot at making FSU’s offense go away from the script they’d hoped would lease them to a comfortable win.