TALLAHASSEE -- How can you judge the worth of a rivalry?
How do you try to determine its merit?
It might be when both teams are at their best and playing for a national title that a rivalry’s true character — the emotion and grit that it was born out of — is most prominently displayed.
If so, this is clearly not a banner year for the Florida State-Florida rivalry.
It could be when the fan bases are most engaged. No, not this year. Or when both teams are led by Heisman contenders. Nope, that’s another no on that one.
Or it could be when one team has absolutely nothing to play for but pride and a chance to stick it to a rival. If that’s the case, then Saturday’s game between FSU (11-0, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and UF (4-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) in Gainesville could be a classic.
Of course, for that to be true, the Gators have a lot to live up to.
If you took the colors and logos off the helmets of the two teams squaring off at noon Saturday, you would be hard-pressed to find a convincing reason why the 11-0 team would lose to the 4-7 one.
While FSU has scored 27 touchdown in its past three games, UF has only mustered 26 all season. While the Gators were suffering a program-shaking upset at the hands of Georgia Southern on their home turf last weekend, the Seminoles broke a school record for points in a single game that same afternoon with 80 — more than the Gators have scored collectively in any month this season.
FSU has stayed relatively healthy this season — coach Jimbo Fisher called that a blessing this week — UF has been decimated by injuries.
True, this is still Florida and Florida State, so anything can happen.
But this year that might amount to little more than wishful thinking on the part of Gators fans — and an angle to build up the game for reporters — if UF doesn’t get some help.
Of course, that help could come in the form of distractions. The legal situation involving FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has pressed on for nearly three weeks, and the story has grown by the day.
Last weekend, Fisher admitted that he saw issues with his team’s focus before the game even started. Sure, the Seminoles still scored 80 points — and Fisher admitted he was being picky — but the issues were there.
Now with another week of the Winston circus grating on them, the Seminoles’ mistakes could be even more prevalent this weekend.
And then there is also the possibility that the Seminoles could get wide-eyed. They are getting closer and closer to their goal. They are still undefeated. A fear of losing it all could set in — as it does for many teams every year — at some point, too.
“When you’re asked about [being unbeaten] and you’re 18 to 22 years old, that can create distractions,” Fisher said. “It’s how much you believe in the system we have and what’s going on and can you compartmentalize all the other things and the questions that are going on about that. It is very tough.
“If it wasn’t tough, people would do it all the time.”
All of these potential distractions could amount to a huge obstacle for the Seminoles when they battle the Gators on Saturday.
Or then again, they could just amount to wishful thinking and part of the pregame narrative.
We’ll know Saturday.