GAINESVILLE -- So much change in so little time.
Just last season, then-No. 4 Florida traveled to No. 10 Florida State as a touchdown underdog and physically dominated the nation’s top-ranked defense.
UF’s 37-24 victory in Tallahassee was the team’s crowning performance as Florida pounded FSU for 244 rushing yards, forced five turnovers and scored 24 consecutive fourth-quarter points en route to its 11th victory.
Things are so very different in just one calendar year.
UF has dropped eight games since its upset win at Doak Campbell Stadium, while FSU has an ACC championship, a BCS bowl win and 11 consecutive regular-season victories to position itself for a national championship appearance.
Now, as the Gators (4-7) and No. 2 Seminoles (11-0) square off at noon Saturday in Gainesville for their annual Sunshine State showdown, the programs no longer stand on equal footing.
Each week, a widening chasm — perhaps the biggest in the series’ rich history — continues to grow.
“It’s really hard to believe the gap is so huge between us two,” UF senior right guard Jon Halapio said. “Especially after how we beat them last year.”
Added UF senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs: “I think I [have] seen we have like a 5 percent chance to win.”
Florida — on a six-game skid and headed for its first losing season in 34 years — is embroiled in turmoil, as the week leading up to the rivalry game has focused more on potential staff changes and coach Will Muschamp’s long-term future rather than a date with a nearly four-touchdown (27 1/2) favorite.
Players, coaches and an apathetic fan base are ready for the season to be over.
“There’s a little sense of that. There’s a little sense of excitement moving forward with our lives and for this week,” Halapio said. “It’s FSU week, it’s a rivalry week. I sense a little bit of excitement but, yeah, just to move on with our lives.”
But whether it’s general grandstanding or honest conviction, Florida players believe they can shock the college football world and ruin FSU’s national title hopes.
“We feel like we can play with them,” Jacobs said.
“I honestly think they haven’t seen our type of defense all year in their league. We’ll be able to cut [FSU’s 55.8 points-per-game average] down. They don’t face the physicality every weekend.”
“I just know that it’s a rivalry game and just like any other rivalry game you play here none of the stats, none of the records really matter,” Gators senior receiver Trey Burton said.
Yet the stats tell a far different story.
While Florida’s defense is ranked seventh nationally, its scoring offense is 109 spots lower than FSU’s
No. 2 ranking.
The Seminoles, led by dynamic quarterback Jameis Winston, have scored 27 touchdowns in their past three games.
The Gators have scored 26 touchdowns all season.