UF-FSU: More than just bragging rights

When he first arrived in Gainesville from Utah following the 2004 bowl season, Urban Meyer got a lesson in the importance of beating Florida’s traditional rivals – Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State.

He has proven to be a quick learner.

Nearing the end of his sixth season in Gainesville, Meyer’s Gators are 16-1 over the three foes head into Saturday’s 2010 regular-season finale in Tallahassee against Florida State.

The one setback came in 2007 when the Bulldogs beat the Gators, 42-30, in the game Georgia coach Mark Richt sent his whole team on the field following its first touchdown of the game, drawing a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct calls and the ire of Meyer, whose team got its revenge in a 49-10 victory the following season.

Florida is 6-0 against Tennessee, 5-1 against Georgia and 5-0 against Florida State, though the Gators have won six straight over the Seminoles dating back to the 2004 season when lame-duck head coach Ron Zook beat Bobby Bowden’s eighth-ranked Seminoles, 20-13, for Florida’s first victory in Tallahassee since 1986. Not only did Florida’s Ol’ Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, not win in the state capital, but Meyer coached victories in Tallahassee against Bowden’s Seminoles during Florida’s national championship seasons of 2006 and ’08.

St. Bobby, of course, was let go to make way for his offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, and his staff has made inroads in recruiting circles, going toe-to-toe with Florida for recruits who in the past had spurned FSU during Bowden’s last years. So this Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m./ABC) – the 55th in the rivalry that dates back to 1958 – has even more riding on it.

For Florida State, it’s a matter of breaking the losing streak.

For Florida, it’s a matter of maintaining its status as the State of Florida’s preeminent program, especially in recruiting circles.

For both, it’s for bragging rights.

“They are the standard a lot of people have been measured by around the country,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The Gators (7-4), whose three-game conference losing streak to Alabama, Louisiana State and Mississippi State in October ended their BCS bowl hopes, hope to finish 8-4 and grab a spot in an elite New Year’s Day game somewhere in Florida, most likely Jacksonville in the Gator Bowl against possibly Penn State and its venerable coaching legend, Joe Paterno.

The Seminoles (8-3) still have an outside shot of playing in a BCS bowl, but they first must hope that Maryland beats North Carolina State Saturday afternoon to gain the Atlantic Division title to play Coastal Division winner Virginia Tech in the Dec. 4 Atlantic Coast Conference game at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. If the Terps, who were beaten by the Seminoles last Saturday night, 30-16, in College Park, Md., beat N.C. State, then Florida State can have a chance to play for the ACC Championship and the conference’s spot in the BCS mix – most likely in the Orange Bowl.

Ironically, the Wolfpack and Terrapins will be deciding things in College Park at the same time Florida State will be trying to break its six-game losing streak against Florida on Bobby Bowden Field in Doak Campbell Stadium.

“We want to make it to that ACC Championship Game, it was a huge goal,” Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. “But to end the streak they have on us would be pretty big. We haven’t won one since I’ve been here.”

It’s a streak the current Gators would love to stretch to seven.

“We don’t want to be the team that loses that streak,’’ Florida’s senior strong safety and co-captain Ahmad Black said.