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Canes, Gators and Noles struggle with changing of guard in Florida

It is not unprecedented, no. It has happened before. Although I think we can all agree that whatever occurred before Florida State Seminoles fans had ever heard of Bobby Bowden officially qualifies as ancient history. Like, instead of Uber, you took a Brontosaurus to the game.

Mark Richt at the time was an 11-year-old kid goofin’ around Boulder, Colorado, just before his family moved to South Florida.

It was around this time in 1971 — 47 college football seasons ago.

That was the last time the state’s erstwhile Big 3 programs — Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators and FSU — were where they are today, all simultaneously with at least two losses in a row.

It is hard to believe. The rarity of that should celebration of how all three rivals have spent so much time all being shades of good, if not great. These are programs that accounted for better than one in three national championships, 11 of 31, in a sort of shared dynasty between 1983, when the Canes first broke the seal, and 2013, when the Noles last reigned.

It isn’t all celebration, though. It’s a realization, too.

We’re ordinary now.

I mean three once-great programs that used to own the state and be nationally relevant year in year out. Today the “Big 3” struggles to stay relevant in their own conferences. Today the Big 3 sees an interloper, UCF up in Orlando, carrying and waving the state banner that they went and took.

The Big 3 is one more Gators loss from making this the first year since 1978 that finds none of the three ranked in the final polls.

Have you come to grips with it, Canes, Gators and Noles fans? Or is it easier to keep dissing the Knights because their American Athletic Association is not a Power 5 conference? Or to simply not acknowledge that UCF, surfing a 21-game winning streak, is for the second year in a row the best college team in the state, period.

While the Knights have done nothing but win the Seminoles have been 11-11 the past two seasons. The current 4-5 record after two straight losses — with three ranked teams to finish — leaves FSU almost certain to miss out on bowl eligibility and to suffer the school’s first outright losing record since 1976. In the gilded line of succession from Bowden to Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggert seems an imposter.

The Gators are not in the same dire straits, at 6-3 and ranked No. 19, but that includes two in-your-place losses in a row by a combined 74-34 score, the last to a .500 Missouri team in a humbling home defeat that drained the Swamp. UF hasn’t managed consecutive 10-win seasons since Urban Meyer left almost 10 years ago.

To Miami. I’m on record as being pro-Richt. That hasn’t changed 2 1/2 seasons into his tenure. But the current three-game losing streak, after last season ended with three straight losses, means UM is 5-7 over its past 12 games. That’s significantly below average over a stretch the equivalent of a full season.

Richt has either fumbled his quarterback situation with his indecision on Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry — or is waffling on the two because he knows neither is good enough. Either option is a bad look for Richt. Dishevelment at the most important position (as the Dolphins know well) is an enemy of success that begs solution.

UM’s desultory 5-4 record has come with three consecutive losses against unranked opponents. Now the Canes face another of those this coming Saturday at Georgia Tech, which has won four of its past five games and is a 4 1/2-point favorite. If the oddsmakers are right, The U would absorb a fourth loss in a row to an unranked foe for the first time since 1970.

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Anybody think the Canes’ game after that, at Virginia Tech, will be easy? Getting to seven wins and an unsatisfactory, participation-ribbon bowl game could be a chore for Miami.

The problem for UM, Florida and FSU isn’t just the current combined seven-game losing streak or watching UCF take over the state and glom the national buzz.

It is that for each of the three the roadblock to a return to national prominence starts in house, in conference.

Alabama and Clemson are the two best college programs in America, and maybe by a good bit.

Florida isn’t getting out of the Southeastern Conference with a chance to reprise its three national titles until it solves Bama and Nick Saban. Good luck.

Likewise FSU trying to win a fourth national crown and Miami a sixth — not as long as Clemson and Dabo Swinney are running the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Clemson routed Miami 38-3 in last season’s ACC title game, and nothing happening on either side this year indicates the gulf has done anything but grow).

Howard Schnellenberger always used to speak of wanting to win the mythical “state championship” among the Hurricanes, Gators and Noles. Jimmy Johnson always said the key to recruiting was to keep the best South Florida kids in Miami.

That was before the Big 3 became the Big 4, and the state capital relocated to Orlando.

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