Here, at last, comes the final, and most hurtful, slap in the face of the 2013 season.
CBS passing on the Florida-FSU rivalry is one thing, because of the enormous stakes of the Iron Bowl showdown between Auburn and Alabama. That game is the de facto SEC West Championship Game, a de facto SEC semifinal and a de facto national quarterfinal. Plus, it’s between two schools who may actually like each other even less than Florida and FSU do. So I totally get that.
But it’s a whole other thing for ESPN to completely disrespect the rivalry by putting it at noon. This game, regardless of how bad the Gators are (and they’re… um, pretty bad), deserves a far better time slot than this. It’s the same feeling of outrage I felt at ESPN for putting another great Sunshine State rivalry, Florida vs. Miami, at noon. When I first saw this news, my reaction was, come on guys over at ESPN, really? Even the 2011 game, which featured a bad team in FSU and a really bad team in Florida, was treated with more respect by being put at night.
Regardless of the network, fewer people watch college football at noon. Lots of people drink to excess on Friday nights, and some people just don’t feel like watching college football first thing when they wake up with a hangover. The game would get more views on ESPN2 at 3:30, or at night. ESPN knows that, and put this game at noon anyway.
I get that ESPN thinks (and aren’t really wrong) the Gators are terrible and they dismiss them because of that, but this is a series that has decided several national championship outcomes, and even was the national championship game once. There’s way too much history, going back as recently as last year, of great games between top ten teams.
Remember all those years when the Gators were flying high and the Seminoles weren’t a whole lot better than Florida is now? I sure do; I compare Gator fans calling for Brent Pease’s head to Florida State fans wanting Jeff Bowden’s head. The position Florida is now in is not very different from what FSU was dealing with a few years ago. FSU has swapped spots with Florida, and now appears to be ready to deliver a beatdown of Herculean proportions- just like Florida did throughout the last half of the last decade.
But even in those years, television took care of this game. Even in 2007, when Florida was 8-3 and FSU was 7-4? That didn’t look like too good of a game, but CBS still took it. Sure, Florida had Tim Tebow and his Heisman campaign, but FSU now has Jameis Winston, in a similar position. And again, I get CBS would much rather have the Iron Bowl, but that puts this game in ESPN’s hands, and doesn’t ESPN think any more of this rivalry than to put it at noon?
Maybe ESPN doesn’t remember what the Gators can do when they’re heavy underdogs.
Flashback. November 22, 1997. Florida came into this game in the Swamp at 8-2, while FSU entered the game undefeated, and ranked #1 in the country. Florida, with two SEC losses and ranked #10, was left with really nothing to play for other than pride. They had an outside shot at an Alliance Bowl (forerunners of the BCS), but that was it. They had no SEC or national championship aspirations. So all they were really doing was playing spoiler. FSU ran out to a 29-25 lead with a couple minutes to go… and then watched as Doug Johnson connected with Jacquez Green over the top to put Florida in scoring range. Two plays later, Fred Taylor banged it in to give Florida a 32-29 victory.
Flashback. November 20, 2004. Ron Zook was coaching his last game for Florida, as the Gators limped into this game at 6-4. Florida State, meanwhile, came in at 8-2, ranked #10, and very much alive for a BCS Bowl bid. Oh, and this was also the night FSU decided to rename their home field in the name of Bobby Bowden. So since it was a special night, it just had to work, right? Wrong. Florida totally crushed FSU’s BCS dreams and ruined Bobby Bowden’s night with a 20-13 upset in Tallahassee.
This current Florida team is worse than both Florida teams that pulled those major upsets, and this FSU team is at worst, just as good as the 1997 team the Gators shocked in Gainesville, and at best, a good deal more powerful than that team. But doesn’t the prospect of one of the biggest upsets of all time that would throw the BCS into mass chaos even kind of intrigue ESPN? Or if you’re looking at it from FSU’s point of view, wouldn’t you be looking to put Jameis Winston on a slightly bigger stage as he makes one final claim for the Heisman against an SEC defense? (Say what you want about Florida as a team, but they do still have a solid defense).
If there were other, bigger, and more meaningful games, I’d get it. Even though I’ve clearly stated the rich history of this rivalry, if I thought there really were better games, I wouldn’t be arguing this. But let’s look at ESPN’s other choices for the noon slot:
#3 Ohio State vs. Michigan: 12:00 noon, ABC. Michigan may be better than Florida, but not by a whole lot, and besides, FSU is the team that controls its own destiny. Whatever the Buckeyes do is completely meaningless unless FSU loses. So wouldn’t you want to put the Buckeyes first, so that they don’t know the FSU result, so that they are inspired to go out and play their absolute best? I don’t mind putting this game on ABC at noon, but to say it’s more significant than the Florida-FSU game is as false a statement as I’ve ever heard.
#4 Baylor vs. TCU: TBD ESPN/ABC. TCU is even worse than Florida, and Baylor is in the same boat as Ohio State. They may jump the Buckeyes, but that’s irrelevant unless FSU loses. But I’ll give ESPN a pass here due to the fact that these teams are both from the Central Time Zone, and thus, would be actually kicking off at 11:00am.
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: 3:30pm ESPN/ABC. This is a complete joke. Both flagship universities from the Peach Tree State are awful, and though both are slightly better than Florida, neither has anything going for them like Florida State does. They’re playing for recruits, bowl positioning and bragging rights. Forget national title implications; this game doesn’t even have ranking implications, not with a combined eight losses between the teams. Get this game off the 3:30 time slot, or put in on ESPNU.
Penn State vs. #19 Wisconsin: 3:30pm ESPN/ABC/BTN. A major miscarriage of justice. If ESPN does actually select this game and steal it away from the Big Ten Network, it will be a crying shame. For one thing, Penn State is bowl-ineligible thanks to the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. For another, Wisconsin is playing for a bid in the Capital One Bowl. That’s the kind of game you want to put in the late afternoon? Wisconsin is in the Central Time Zone, but they play so many noon road games that they should be accustomed to it.
#7 Clemson vs. #11 South Carolina: 7:00pm, ESPN2. Understandable, but I don’t agree with putting this game at night. While both teams are far better than the Gators, and evenly enough matched so that it should be a good game to watch, the game itself is pointless on a national level. Clemson’s already been knocked out of the ACC Title Game race, and South Carolina is done with its SEC slate. Like Georgia and Georgia Tech, these Palmetto State rivals are just playing for recruits, bowl positioning and bragging rights. Put this one at 3:30.
In any case, let’s see if Will Muschamp can light a fire under his program here. I still don’t think Muschamp is the right man to run this program; I saw the warning signs after the Miami game, and ever since then, I’ve slowly become convinced that he’s never going to lead the Gators back to permanent glory. But he did get his players to fight for their lives in the second half against Georgia, and against South Carolina. If his team shows that same effort against the Seminoles, the loyal Gator fans that do pack the Swamp will suddenly roar to life. Death Valley in Clemson is a pretty hard environment to win in, but other than maybe Oregon, Alabama and possibly LSU, there’s not a tougher place to play than the Swamp when the fans get really into it.