Even in a state where hundreds of high school players sign college scholarships annually, winning at the college level isn't automatic anymore — especially when programs are in transition phases. In fairness, all three of the Sunshine State traditional powers have dealt with wild adversity already this season. Miami was rocked before the year even began by an NCAA investigation that still lingers, and the Hurricanes have been decimated by injuries on defense as well. Florida and Florida State have dealt with injuries to starting quarterbacks, huge blows to both teams.
"Health, depth, quarterback play, schedule," Golden said. "There's a lot of variables that come into play."
There's also more places for players to play now.
Three decades ago, there was no Florida International football program, no South Florida, no Central Florida, no Florida Atlantic.
Now they're gobbling up plenty of talent from all around the state. And while the balance of power isn't totally shifting yet, one could easily argue that the best team in the state is South Florida, and the best player is FIU's T.Y. Hilton.
The Bulls have three bowl wins since 2007, matching Florida and Florida State. Florida Atlantic won consecutive bowl games in 2007 and 2008 — the only team in the state to do so over that span. FIU won its first bowl last year, capping a huge turnaround season for the Panthers. UCF won its first bowl game in four tries last year. Miami's last bowl win came in 2006.
"I don't know if it has all that much to do with all of us who are new on the scene here," said Schnellenberger, who founded FAU's program about a decade ago. "I think the major contest lies between the three oldest schools here in the state and the best schools in the country. ... The recruiting phase is just a small part of it. You've got coaching changes, you've got more competition."
Which means even at Florida, Florida State and Miami there are more challenges.
"It's pretty bizarre," Fisher said when asked about the end of the 29-year AP poll run for Florida schools. "I mean, it is. Just got to play better. We need to play better football."
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