While No. 5 Florida State and Florida remain fierce rivals, they have something painfully in common right now.
Each is dealing with a devastating injury to its starting quarterback heading into the annual post-Thanksgiving rivalry clash, which the Gators will host on Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida State (11-0) now faces the daunting challenge of trying to keep its national championship hopes alive without Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Travis, who suffered a significant leg injury during the first quarter of last weekend’s 58-13 win over North Alabama.
Meanwhile, Florida (5-6) lost starter Graham Mertz potentially for the remainder of the season after he suffered a non-displaced collarbone fracture with 2:09 left in the third quarter of the Gators’ heartbreaking 33-31 loss at Missouri last Saturday.
Travis’ injury clearly had an impact on the most recent College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night. The latest poll had the Seminoles ranked No. 5 behind No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Washington, and on the outside looking in after being ranked fourth each of the past three weeks.
Michigan and Ohio State face each other this weekend, which guarantees one of the five unbeaten teams in that mix will drop.
But there’s speculation that even an unbeaten Florida State team with victories over the Gators and potentially Louisville in next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game could get left out of the Playoff in favor of the Michigan-Ohio State loser depending on the impression the Seminoles make over their next two games.
“It’s always about us. And through challenge, through adversity, through whatever the perspective is on the outside of people that think that know our team?” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said. “I live with them every day. I watch them every day, I watch their work, I watch their heart, the ability — all the things that are important to winning football games and being able to sustain success.”
The Seminoles will try to press forward with redshirt junior Tate Rodemaker starting at quarterback. For the season, Rodemaker is 20 of 31 for 376 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Last week after Travis went down, Rodemaker went 13-for-23 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
“Tate’s an old head,” Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins told reporters this week. “Not like we’re putting in some redshirt freshman, he’s been around. … He’s been in it for a while. He understands the system now.”
The Gators, meanwhile, will go with redshirt freshman Max Brown, who entered in relief of Mertz and will make his first collegiate start against FSU.
Brown completed 4 of 5 passes for 56 yards and ran for 42 yards on seven carries against Missouri.
“Give Max some credit,” Florida coach Billy Napier said after the loss. “Max settled in there a little bit and made a few plays. Obviously, he’s a good athlete and we were able to use his legs a little bit in the read game.”
Napier said Monday that a recent scan of Mertz’s collarbone hinted it could heal on its own allowing him to potentially avoid surgery.
“You know, we’re basically gonna go in a two-week period here where we’re going to give a chance for the fracture to start the process of growing back, and then we’ll re-evaluate things,” Napier said.
The Seminoles will get a desperate Florida team that needs a victory in order to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since going 4-7 in 2017.
–Field Level Media