GAINESVILLE —Silly to think now that the Florida Gators ever had a seat in the musical-chairs party game run by the College Football Playoff committee.
The Gators are only half a team, lacking offense. Or we could say a third of a team, lacking offense and the special-teams minimum of a guy who can kick a ball through the goalposts every now and then.
Florida State? Now that’s a complete package, right down to a 10-2 record that can be believed more than Florida’s. With Saturday’s 27-2 clobbering of the Gators before the biggest crowd ever to stuff into the Swamp, Jimbo Fisher proved once more that he is the big dog in this state.
Everybody else is chew-toy material, and Jimbo doesn’t want you stopping at Florida and Miami when it comes to that category.
“South Florida, too,” Jimbo said, revisiting FSU’s 34-14 September win over the Bulls. “All of them.
They saw patience on the part of an FSU team that knew it would eventually prevail, and in the end they saw Dalvin Cook, who switched from Florida to the Seminoles late in his own recruiting process, racking up 183 rushing yards and a couple of touchdowns.
That last score, a 29-yard run with 20 seconds to play, didn’t have to happen. Jimbo could have called for quarterback Sean Maguire to take a knee on fourth-and-3. Instead he let the play clock run all the way down, took a timeout and set up a wide misdirection toss for Cook when the gassed Gator defense was all clumped up in the middle.
Hey, the Seminoles might have lost their shutout on a fourth-quarter safety, but Jimbo never misses an opportunity for a shoutout. That tack-on touchdown he viewed as his right.
Jim McElwain isn’t feeling that sporty right now, but he will one day at Florida, once he’s got a quarterback who won’t freeze up in the pocket and miss open receivers and drop shotgun snaps.
Treon Harris did all of that Saturday, soaking up four sacks and never completing a pass longer than 15 yards. With receivers like Antonio Callaway and the run support of a horse like Kelvin Taylor, who rushed for more than half of Florida’s 262 yards in total offense, a team ought to be stacking up first downs almost by accident.
Once Florida State’s lead got to 13-0 in the third quarter, though, it was clear there was no comeback coming. The same nagging snags that Vanderbilt and South Carolina and Florida Atlantic started in the Gators’ attack got ripped wide open by the Seminoles’ defense. How McElwain got 10 wins out of this group following the suspension of quarterback Will Grier in October is a tribute to what he is capable of doing.
Saturday also showed, however, how far McElwain really has to go, and how hard Jimbo, 5-1 against three different Florida coaches, is willing to push him.
“That’s something we’ve got to learn from,” said McElwain, who tried to be gentle in saying that he never considered pulling Harris.
What he didn’t say is that there is no viable option for the Gators, and that really hurts going into next Saturday’s SEC Championship game against Alabama. The Crimson Tide, unlike FSU, is still in line for a national title shot. They won’t be bothered in the least about trying to stopping Taylor if that’s all the Gators offense can offer.
Jimbo, meanwhile, can hit the recruiting trail at full steam, free of rumors that LSU might be after him, buoyed by the prospect of a probable Peach Bowl appearance, one of the New Year’s Six prizes that everybody shoots for these days.
“If you go back through the dynasty years (at FSU) with national championship teams in there, they each have had many heartbreaking losses,” said Jimbo, whose team lost close to Clemson and clumsy to Georgia Tech this season. “Their dynasty to me is how they respond after the loss. They keep the pride of the organization going.
“That’s what this team has the capabilities to do now.”
We’ll hear more from the Seminoles in December, especially if Cook gets an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, but for the moment FSU’s heavy lifting is done.
Jimbo has taken the unofficial state trophy and power-lifted it three years in a row.
There will never be a season in which that doesn’t matter.
There will never be a time, whether Florida and Miami are fully stocked or just a fraction of a whole, that it isn’t worth flaunting.
Remember that fourth-and-goal touchdown that opened the scoring for FSU Saturday night? That was a coach trusting his second-choice at quarterback to make something happen — and being rewarded when Maguire threw a scoring pass to a tight end, Jeremy Kerr, who previously had no collegiate receptions at all.
It can’t be Jameis Winston and domination every year, but it can be awful good no matter who Jimbo puts on the field. Good enough to win three straight trips to the Swamp. Good enough to expect nothing less.