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Florida-Florida State more than just a game
By Will Weiss
BCSfootball.com

"Every time Florida and Florida State play, it puts someone in the National Championship Game."
--Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden

Ever since Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990 in Gainesville, Florida and Florida State has been an intense show on the field, and become one of the greatest rivalries in college football.

Humphrey Deon greets fans
Florida State fans have done most of the cheering over the last 10 years.

Twelve times, the two teams squared off in the '90s, each game with more on the line. The tradition continues Saturday night when the third-ranked Seminoles and the No. 4 Gators square off in Tallahassee (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

The circumstances are familiar to football fans in the Sunshine State. Florida State has already clinched a sport in a BCS bowl -- a win against Florida will determine which one it is. Meanwhile, a Florida win plus a win in the SEC Championship Game puts the Gators in position to play for the national championship at the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

Here's a look at the rivalry and its significance over the past 10 years as we head into this year's edition.

December 1, 1990
No. 8 Florida State 45, No. 6 Florida 30
Doak Campbell Stadium

It was a classic case of the wily old coach taking the young hotshot to school.

Bowden devised a game plan that exploited Florida's weaknesses in the secondary, and his players executed it to perfection. Casey Weldon's 76-yard bomb to Lawrence Dawsey in the first quarter set the tone as the Seminoles routed the Gators 45-30. The 3 hour, 40 minute marathon saw both coaches throw everything in the playbook at each other, combining for 971 yards of total offense.

This game displayed only a hint of what was to come in future UF-FSU matchups.

November 30, 1991
No. 5 Florida 14, No. 3 Florida State 9
The Swamp

Florida avenged the previous year's loss and halted a four-game losing streak to the 'Noles, defeating its hated rivals 14-9. It marked the Gators' 10th win of the season, the first time in school history that the feat had been accomplished.

"It's one of the most emotional wins I've ever been a part of," Spurrier said.

The Gators picked up Shane Matthews' 13-for-30 passing performance by playing outstanding defense. Leading 14-9 in the final minutes, FSU drove to the Florida 14. Safety Will White broke up Weldon's pass intended for Kez McCorvey, and safety Del Speer decked Matt Frier to prevent any hope of a score on the deflection.

The Gators held the Seminoles to a mere 37 yards rushing, the 'Noles lowest total since totaling 42 yards against Miami in 1988.

November 28, 1992
No. 3 Florida State 45, No. 6 Florida 24
Doak Campbell Stadium
The result was eerily similar to Spurrier's first trip to Tallahassee.

Florida State QB Charlie Ward shredded the Gators' defense, throwing for 331 yards and amassing 70 on the ground in the 'Noles 21-point victory. The win put FSU in position for a shot at the national championship, provided Florida defeated Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

"My only words to Steve were, 'Beat 'Bama,'" said Bobby Bowden.

That didn't happen, as the Tide defeated the Gators 28-21 in the SEC title game and then defeated Miami, who beat FSU earlier in the season on Wide Right II, to win the national championship.

The '92 game was the first of what would become a series of virtual playoff elimination games between the two teams.

Bowden, Bobby
Bobby Bowden is 13-10-1 against Florida in his career at FSU.
November 27, 1993
No. 1 Florida State 33, No. 7 Florida 21
The Swamp
Florida State ended the Gators' 23-game home winning streak, as Charlie Ward played the game that would secure his Heisman Trophy, completing 38-of-53 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-21 win in Gainesville.

The game was close, 27-21 with less than six minutes remaining, when Ward completed his Heisman run. Facing third-and-10, Ward eluded a sack, rolled left and tossed a 79-yard TD to Warrick Dunn to put the game away.

"This one was to stake our claim," Ward said. "It proves that this team here is not what everybody thinks it is. They said we can't win the big game."

The Seminoles did, and edged Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl to claim its first-ever national championship.

November 26, 1994
No. 4 Florida 31, No. 7 Florida State 31
Doak Campbell Stadium

Leading 24-3 at halftime and 31-3 in the fourth quarter, Gator fans were relishing this one. That was, until FSU scored 28 in the final frame and dashed Florida's chance at a national championship with a 31-31 stalemate.

Danny Kanell completed 16 of his last 17 passes, throwing for 232 yards in the fourth quarter to lead the Seminole charge. Overall, he completed 34-of-40 for 349 yards after intermission.

"When we were down 31-3," receiver 'OMar Ellison said, "we just wanted to score some points and make this thing respectable."

"We just tried to run the ball and work the clock," said Florida QB Danny Wuerffel. "They played a great second half, but we were too conservative."

Rock Preston scored with 1:45 to go to close it to 31-30, but instead of going for two to win, Bowden opted to kick the extra point.

The tie was the first between the two teams since 1961, and kept both teams' records identical at 9-1-1. Florida's 24-23 win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game set up a much-anticipated rematch a month later.

January 2, 1995
No. 7 Florida State 23, No. 5 Florida 17
Sugar Bowl -- New Orleans

Both teams felt the intensity after the tie in Tallahassee a few weeks earlier. But the second meeting between Florida and Florida State was a Dunn deal.

Dubbed "The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter," FSU's Warrick Dunn did it all, gaining 58 yards on the ground, catching nine passes for 51 yards, and throwing a 73-yard touchdown pass to 'OMar Ellison to earn MVP honors in the 'Noles 23-17 win.

"He was kind of our ace in the hole today," said Bowden. "We get the ball in his hands and he finds a way to make things happen."

Seventeen second-quarter points put the 'Noles on top, as FSU turned two Gator fumbles into 10 points. And Kanell led a 72-yard scoring drive to give the 'Noles a 14-point advantage. Dan Mowrey's field goal with 36 seconds remaining in the half made it 20-10.

In the fourth quarter, the Gators mounted a comeback, as Wuerffel engineered an 80-yard scoring drive to cut the margin to six. They would get the ball back with 2:27 remaining, but Derrick Brooks intercepted Kanell in the final minute to seal the win for FSU.

The Seminoles won the game despite two missed field goals from Mowrey (ye of the Wide Right) and several ill-advised penalties. FSU had two touchdowns nullified by penalties.

Florida was without reserve linebacker Anthony Riggins and nickelback Darren Hambrick, who were suspended after fighting during the New Year's Eve team meal.

November 25, 1995
No. 3 Florida 35, No. 6 Florida State 24
The Swamp

The Gators were not going to let the Seminoles do it to them again.

Florida scorched FSU for 587 total yards, and limited Kanell to just 184 yards passing forced him to throw two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter.

The win was Spurrier's first against Florida State, and all but assured the Gators of the No. 2 ranking and a chance to play Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. Florida reached that stage, and lost to the Cornhuskers 62-24.

November 30, 1996
No. 2 Florida State 24, No. 1 Florida 21
Doak Campbell Stadium

Florida State employed a relentless pass rush, sacking Wuerffel six times and pounding him to the turf throughout the game to key the 24-21 victory in Tallahassee.

"Our plan was to hit him (Wuerffel) every time he raised his arm," said defensive end Peter Boulware. "We'd hit him, he'd get up, we'd hit him again. You stop Danny Wuerffel, you stop Florida."

On the other side of the ball, Dunn rushed for 185 yards for the 'Noles, who ran their record to 11-0, assuring themselves of a spot in the Sugar and a chance to play for the national championship.

Florida State sprinted to a 17-0 lead early, but Wuerffel and the Gators showed their resilience, as Jacquez Green snared two touchdown passes to cut the gap to 17-14 at halftime. Florida had a chance to tie the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter, but Bart Edmiston's 41-yard attempt sailed ... wide right. The Seminoles scored on the ensuing drive to put the game out of reach.

National championship dreams for Florida seemed to have washed away in Tallahassee again, but a 45-30 win over Alabama in the SEC title game and Texas' upset of Nebraska in the Big XII Championship Game set up the most important game in this series.

Spurrier Steve
Defeating Florida State made Steve Spurrier's first national championship even sweeter.
January 2, 1997
No. 3 Florida 52, No. 1 Florida State 20
Sugar Bowl -- New Orleans

In a word, domination.

Florida's 52-20 pasting of Florida State ended Bowden's record of 11 straight bowl wins and 14 without a loss.

"He was due for a loss," Spurrier said. "He had a good long run, but I'm glad we ended it."

Florida avenged its 62-24 loss in the Fiesta Bowl from a year ago in stellar fashion. Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel endured another beating, getting sacked five times and knocked down 21 times, but threw for 306 yards, three touchdowns and ran for a TD. He was the obvious choice for MVP.

"Wuerffel's the guy, man," Bowden said. "Wuerffel is something."

Wuerffel and his teammates gathered in the end zone, raised their helmets in triumph and celebrated the school's first national championship.

"We're proud of our effort and that people recognize what we did," Wuerffel said.

Said Spurrier: "God has smiled on the Gators, no question about it."

November 22, 1997
No. 10 Florida 32, No. 1/2 Florida State 29
The Swamp

It seemed as if the celebrating lasted 11 months, carrying over from New Orleans to The Swamp. Florida State entered the game a perfect 10-0, ranked first in the coaches' poll and second in the AP poll. Florida had stumbled twice, losing to LSU and Georgia, but now wanted to prevent the 'Noles from marching any closer to another title berth.

The game teetered back and forth until Florida quarterback Doug Johnson crafted a play that will go down as one of the most memorable in Gator lore.

Trailing 29-25 with 2:33 to go, the Gators started from their own 20. Johnson hit Jacquez Green on a curl-and-go, and Green dodged would-be tacklers before being dragged down at the 18. Fred Taylor then took over, going 17 yards on the following play, and then punching it in from one yard out for the game-winning score.

Taylor ended his day with 162 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The final 1-yard plunge erased two earlier fumbles that resulted in 10 quick points for the Seminoles.

November 21, 1998
No. 5 Florida State 23, No. 4 Florida 12
Doak Campbell Stadium

Once again, the winner would likely receive a chance to play for a national championship at the Fiesta Bowl. Florida State and its top-ranked defense held Florida to 204 total yards and intercepted Doug Johnson three times en route to a 23-12 victory.

"They flat out clobbered us," said Spurrier of his team that went 0-for-13 on third-down conversions. "Their defense played our offense about as good as anyone has."

Travis Minor gained 127 yards on the ground for FSU, and sophomore quarterback Marcus Outzen, despite losing two fumbles, maintained his composure and led the 'Noles to victory in his second collegiate start.

"Not many quarterbacks play Florida the first time and come out successful," Minor said.

"I'm still in shock," Outzen said. "I wouldn't trade this for anything."

On Championship Saturday, the Seminoles got an early Christmas gift. In a span of just a few hours, Miami upset UCLA and Texas A&M knocked off Kansas State, opening up a spot for the Seminoles in the inaugural BCS title game, the Fiesta Bowl, where they eventually lost to national champion Tennessee 23-16. Florida headed to the Orange Bowl, where the Gators dismantled Syracuse 31-10.

November 18, 1999
No. 1 Florida State 30, No. 3 Florida 23
The Swamp

"If you can win here in The Swamp, that's the best way to prove you can win a national championship. We are a great team."
--Florida State WR Peter Warrick

Warrick ran for a touchdown and caught nine balls for 90 yards amid chants of "Dillards, Dillards," referring to his shopping-mall scandal that led to a two-game suspension earlier in the season.

The Gators had a chance to tie on the final play, but Jesse Palmer's desperation attempt fell to the ground in the end zone, assuring the Seminoles an undefeated regular season and their second straight trip to the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

Florida State led until Bennie Alexander intercepted Chris Weinke and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. That score made it 16-13 Gators midway through the third quarter, but FSU stormed back with 17 unanswered points.

The Gators alternated quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer on every other play to get the offense going, but it didn't really click until the final few minutes, when Johnson hit Brian Haugabrook from three yards out to cut the lead to seven.

Florida outgained FSU 442-346, but 15 penalties basically took the Gators out of the game.

"We can take losing, but we hate to beat ourselves," said Spurrier. "We had our chances -- if we just played within the rules."

Will Weiss is the assistant editor of BCSfootball.com

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