Once upon a time, the tradition of the Florida-Florida State game on Thanksgiving weekend was dictating a not-insignificant piece of the national championship conversation.

These days? Chances are good an interim coach is involved.

In 17 meetings (15 in the regular season) between the Sunshine State rivals from 1987 to 2001, a top-10 team was involved in all of them. A top-five team was part of 15 of those games, and both teams were in the top five on six occasions.

Those were the days.

Obviously, the series hasn’t been at the level of the Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden heydays for a long time. The last top-10 pairing of the Gators and Seminoles came in 2012. But to see both straggle into the Swamp at 5-6 this week seems sad.

It’s not the first time in recent years this rivalry has looked lean. Back in 2017, Florida was 4-6 and Randy Shannon was serving as an interim coach after Jim McElwain’s firing after seven games. Florida State was also 4-6, but would handle the Gators in Gainesville only to see Coach Jimbo Fisher bolt for Texas A&M within a week.

Fisher’s successor, Willie Taggart, didn’t make it through two seasons. So when the Seminoles went back to Florida in 2019, they had an interim coach (Odell Haggins) of their own.

Now it’s the Gators’ turn again with an interim coach after Dan Mullen was fired after four consecutive conference losses with a victory over Samford interspersed in the tailspin. Greg Knox will be in charge Saturday.

If there’s some short-term solace to take in the trajectory of either team, it’s that Florida State has won five of its last seven, including a Nov. 13 victory over Miami that seemed oh-so-unlikely when the Seminoles were giving up last-second, game-winning Hail Marys to Jacksonville State during an 0-4 September.

It’s a credit to Florida State’s entire program, including second-year coach Mike Norvell, the season didn’t spiral from there. But 5-6 is not business-as-usual in Tallahassee, nor is it the standard at Florida.

The Seminoles are 26-32 over the last five seasons. Florida is stuck on a coaching spin cycle and is seeking its fourth program boss since Urban Meyer left after the 2010 season. The Gators have been better in the recent past (Mullen, after all, had top-10 teams that enjoyed 10-win seasons in 2018 and 2019), but they still haven’t been scary-good since 2009.

Both programs need work; it clearly isn’t the 1990s anymore. Both have potential, by dint of proximity to talent. But that wasn’t enough for either to avoid something that was unthinkable just a couple decades ago: a Florida-Florida State game unfolding with mere bowl eligibility — and not serious national implications — at stake.

Updating the title races

Three of the 10 conference title games already have their matchups locked in. The most prominent of the bunch is the Alabama-Georgia showdown in Atlanta next weekend for the SEC championship. It could very well just be Round 1, especially if the Crimson Tide wins the league crown.

Appalachian State will visit Louisiana-Lafayette for the Sun Belt title, while Cincinnati and Houston will meet in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The Bearcats host that game with a victory over East Carolina, and travel to Houston with a loss.

As for the other seven conferences, here are the scenarios in play this weekend.

ACC: Pittsburgh (9-2, 7-1) has already won the Coastal Division, and the Panthers could see one of three teams in Charlotte, next weekend.

Wake Forest (9-2, 6-1) wins the Atlantic Division with a victory at Boston College (6-5, 2-5). If the Demon Deacons lose, N.C. State (8-3, 5-2) could swoop in and earn its first ACC title game trip if it defeats North Carolina (6-5, 3-4) on Friday. And if both N.C. State and Wake Forest sputter, Clemson (8-3, 6-2) would wind up playing for its seventh consecutive ACC title.

Big Ten: The East Division is straightforward. Ohio State (10-1, 8-0) visits Michigan (10-1, 7-1) for the right to advance to Indianapolis next weekend.

The West could be straightforward, so long as Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2) wins. A triumph over Minnesota (7-4, 5-3) for Paul Bunyan’s Axe sends the Badgers to the Big Ten title game. And even if Wisconsin loses, it is possible things work out smoothly — so long as Iowa (9-2, 6-2) knocks off Nebraska (3-8, 1-7) on Friday to give the Hawkeyes the division crown.

But if both Iowa and Wisconsin lose? There could be a three-way tie with Minnesota or a four-way tie with the Gophers and Purdue if the Boilermakers (7-4, 5-3) beat Indiana (2-9, 0-8) for the Old Oaken Bucket. The three-way tie (which requires a Purdue loss) tilts to Wisconsin, while Minnesota would emerge as the winner of the West in the case of a four-way logjam. Purdue has no remaining path to the Big Ten title game.

Big 12: The winner of Saturday night’s Bedlam game between Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1) and Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) locks up the regular season title and clinches a place in the league championship game. If Oklahoma wins, there would be a rematch between the in-state rivals, since the Cowboys hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Baylor (9-2, 6-2).

Oklahoma fell to the Bears, so it needs to win to keep its Big 12 title hopes alive … at least as long as the Bears beat Texas Tech (6-5, 3-5) earlier in the day. If Baylor loses, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will know they’re playing twice in eight days by the time they kick off in Stillwater.

Conference USA: Texas San Antonio (11-0, 7-0) has clinched home-field advantage for the league title. The Roadrunners will meet the winner of Saturday’s game between Western Kentucky (7-4, 6-1) and Marshall (7-4, 5-2).

Mid-American: Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1) has clinched the West, while the East Division will be settled by Saturday’s showdown between Miami (Ohio) and Kent State, both of whom are 6-5 overall (5-2 in the MAC).

Mountain West: The West Division is simple enough. San Diego State (10-1, 6-1) reaches the conference title game with a victory over Boise State (7-4, 5-2) on Friday or if Fresno State (8-3, 5-2) loses to San Jose State (5-6, 3-4) on Thursday. A Fresno State win/San Diego State loss combination hands the division to the Bulldogs.

With Boise State, Air Force (8-3, 5-2) and Utah State (8-3, 5-2) all tied entering the weekend, there are a few quirks. Air Force would win a three-way tiebreaker, and thanks to a head-to-head defeat of Boise State would win the division with a defeat of UNLV (2-9, 2-5) and a Utah State loss at New Mexico (3-8, 1-6). Boise State needs a victory coupled with an Air Force loss, while Utah State needs a victory and a Boise State loss.

Pac-12: Utah (8-3, 7-1) has clinched the South Division, and will face Oregon (9-2, 6-2), Oregon State (7-4, 5-3) or Washington State (6-5, 5-3). Oregon has the least convoluted path, needing only a victory over Oregon State to get the job done.

If Oregon State claims the in-state rivalry game over the Ducks and Washington State loses the Apple Cup to Washington (4-7, 3-5), the Beavers head to Las Vegas. But Washington State can seize the North Division with a victory and an Oregon loss, winning a tiebreaker based on division record.

Five with the most at stake in Week 13

1a. Ohio State and 1b. Michigan. The winner heads to the Big Ten title game and will be one victory from a near-certain playoff berth. The loser probably winds up in the Rose Bowl, unless a Big Ten West team wins the conference championship game. And then there are the bragging rights. So much in the way of bragging rights. So, yeah, it’s a big deal for both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines.

2a. Oklahoma and 2b. Oklahoma State. The winner of this matchup of 10-1 teams remains a plausible playoff contender heading into conference championship weekend. Both the Sooners and the Cowboys could use some help over the next two weeks — an Alabama-over-Georgia SEC title game result could make things especially thorny — but the first order of business is a Bedlam victory. Oklahoma has won the last six in the series.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats (11-0) not only clobbered Southern Methodist last weekend, but saw Michigan State, Oregon and Wake Forest all take their second losses while Notre Dame (a team Cincinnati beat in South Bend) demolished Georgia Tech. The task is simple: Beat East Carolina on Friday, the more lopsided the better, and hope to receive even more help elsewhere.

4. Alabama. Weird stuff happens in rivalry games, but weird stuff doesn’t happen to Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) against unranked teams. The Crimson Tide heads to the Plains to meet Auburn (6-5, 3-4), which has dropped three in a row, in this year’s Iron Bowl. A victory moves Alabama closer to its accustomed playoff berth.

5. Notre Dame. The Irish (10-1) reaches the end of its regular season road with a visit to reeling Stanford (3-8), which has dropped six in a row since its Oct. 2 upset of Oregon and has lost its three November games by an average of 32 points. It is another opportunity for Brian Kelly’s team to compile style points. But even with a victory, Notre Dame will need some help to make the final four.

Heisman Watch

1. QB Bryce Young, Alabama (3,584 yards, 38 TDs, 3 INTs passing; 14 yards, 2 TDs rushing). Young hadn’t surpassed the 400-yard plateau before last Saturday, then proceeded to drop 559 yards and five touchdowns on Arkansas. In his last five games, he’s thrown for 18 touchdowns against no picks. It already feels like a monster game against Georgia in the SEC title game could tilt the race fully in his favor. But first up, the Iron Bowl. (Last week: 2)

2. QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (3,468 yards, 36 TDs, 5 INTs passing). Stroud couldn’t have been much better against Michigan State’s porous pass defense, completing 32 of 35 for 432 yards and six touchdowns. It’ll be tough to match that against a far stingier Michigan defense in Ann Arbor. (LW: 4)

3. RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (1,498 yards, 17 TDs rushing; 13 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD receiving). Even if Walker wasn’t a bit banged up, things got away from the Spartans early enough at Ohio State that their star running back was largely going to be a nonfactor. That said, six carries for 25 yards in a high-profile game didn’t move the needle for Walker like his evisceration of Michigan last month. (LW: 1)

4. QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (3,857 yards, 36 TDs, 6 INTs passing; 217 yards, 4 TDs rushing). Pickett and the Panthers are headed to the ACC title game after last week’s defeat of Virginia. The senior threw for 340 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions (one on a desperation heave at the end of the first half) to remain in contention for at least an invitation to the Heisman ceremony. (LW: 3)

5. LB Will Anderson, Alabama (79 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks). Anderson was a menace (again) last week, collecting 11 tackles (3.5 for loss) and a sack in the Crimson Tide’s defeat of Arkansas. At the very least, he should be the national defensive player of the year. (LW: 6)

6. QB Matt Corral, Mississippi (3,099 yards, 19 TDs, 3 INTs passing; 552 yards, 10 TDs rushing). Corral’s 27-of-36, 326-yard day against Vanderbilt was his largest passing yardage total since Sept. 18. He and the Rebels close the regular season in Thursday’s Egg Bowl at Mississippi State. (LW: 5)