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Notes: A rivalry game, a ‘huge week’ in a bounce-back season

There will be no shortage of storylines within Florida State-Florida.

In a matchup of 5-6 teams, this is already viewed as the Bowl Eligibility Bowl or Eligi-Bowl. Florida State would also love nothing more than to take a state title, the first since 2016, and something that was once snickered at years ago yet now would not only be a source of pride but also a talking point to recruits. There is also the added dynamic and emotion for the Gators, who will be playing for an interim coach after Dan Mullen’s dismissal.

Coaches and players are focused on Florida but have taken time to reflect on an 0-4 September and the team’s daily resolve. FSU coach Mike Norvell often calls it “daily investment” or simply “work.” With a big rivalry game still ahead there is an appreciation for what the team has achieved in October and November.

“We’ve been through so much,” linebacker Kalen DeLoach said. “I do battle with them every day and I just like how we fought from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. We never gave up. We always held each other up.”

Said defensive tackle Keir Thomas: “That just shows what we’re capable of. I feel like we fought back. Like I tell you guys all the time, I don’t question these guys’ effort and how we’re going to respond.”

There is no questioning it now but there was questioning back in September, following a loss to FCS Jacksonville State in which the Seminoles didn’t look prepared and then it followed with a turnover- and penalty-plagued loss at Wake Forest. There were immediate questions about if the Seminoles had quit and if Norvell still had players dialed in.

Those questions began to disappear as FSU rallied but fell short in the second half against Louisville but the mental-mistake penalties quickly were reduced. The Seminoles have won five of their last seven games going into the matchup with UF.

“It’s a huge week for our program, for this team,” Norvell said. “To be able to get into Week 12, especially with how it started, with an opportunity to play for one more.”

Norvell also emphasized how much of an importance the rivalry games take on in the big picture of the program.

“The very first day of fall camp, I talked about two teams,” Norvell said. “I talk about Miami and I talk about this one. Everybody wants to win this game. Because it will be a game that’s remembered for the rest of your life regardless of who the coach is, this, that, what was the outcome? Everything you do throughout the season is going to prepare you for the moment. You’ve either done the job, learned from the experiences and you apply for 60 minutes during that game or you don’t. And you have to live with the results.”

Fuller breaks rock

FSU coaches decide after wins who gets to “break the rock,” a celebration where a player usually swings the sledgehammer in the locker room. The decision is usually Norvell’s and he consults with assistants, but he said on Monday that a few defensive players came to him after the win over BC on Saturday and nominated their defensive coordinator, Adam Fuller.

“After games and wins usually Mike comes to me and we quickly (discuss), ‘Who do you want?’ He’s got somebody in mind on offense or special teams and usually I give him one or two guys and then whatever decision he makes the guy goes and breaks it,” Fuller said. “When he called my name, obviously it was a little bit of a shock to me. But it’s a team thing, right, and somebody has to break it. To hear that the players wanted it, I can’t tell you what that feels like. That’s a moment that you’re super proud of. It’s kind of not why you coach but it’s all part of the impact. It could have been three or four or five different players. Hopefully the players saw it as I was the ability to represent them in that moment. It was definitely something that was cool.”

ACC players of the week

Two Florida State players won ACC weekly honors. Keir Thomas was named defensive lineman of the week after he set a career high with three tackles for loss and tied a career-high with two sacks. Thomas led the nation with 11 quarterback pressure. He now has 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in his last four games. Akeem Dent was named defensive back of the week after he had three tackles, a pass break-up and an interception late in the win over Boston College. Dent’s pick extended FSU’s streak of seven straight games with an interception. Dent leads FSU with 12 pass breakups in 2021.

Bowl projections

After months of being well out of the bowl picture, the Seminoles are back in it following wins over Miami and Boston College. FSU would be bowl-eligible with a win over Florida. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm projects FSU will face Arkansas in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 31.