Florida is a football state, through and through.

Having lived in the Sunshine State for the past 9 years, I can say that with certainty. Other sports might have their moments, but nothing dominates discussion or attention in Florida quite like football.

With college baseball crowning a champion in Omaha to officially close the book on the 2023-24 sports calendar, I decided this would be a good time to begin an annual power ranking of the FBS programs in the state of Florida. For those who are keeping track at home, there are 7. Four are in the “Core 4” (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC) and 3 are in the Group of 5.

In 2024, we’re fittingly going to have 7 in-state matchups:

  • Aug. 31 — Miami vs. Florida
  • Sept. 14 — FIU vs. FAU
  • Sept. 21 — Miami vs. USF
  • Oct. 5 — UCF vs. Florida
  • Oct. 26 — Florida State vs. Miami
  • Nov. 1 — USF vs. FAU
  • Nov. 30 — Florida vs. Florida State

That means perhaps more so than ever, there can be a state title of sorts (I suppose UCF doesn’t really get to be a full participant with just the matchup at Florida, but you get it).

Here’s how I’d rank each of those programs for 2024:

7. FIU

It’s hard to argue that FIU is anything but No. 7 when it has a 6-game losing streak against FAU, all of which were decided by at least 3 scores. Mike MacIntyre’s first and only win against an eventual FBS bowl team came in Oct. 2022 against a 7-win New Mexico State squad, so it’s still very much a work in progress, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where FIU finished outside of the top 100 in FBS in scoring and yards/play. Go figure that FIU’s last win against a team from the state of Florida was against Miami in 2019. Much has changed since then. But hey, FIU is easily No. 1 in the Florida uniform power rankings.

6. FAU

Yes, I know that FAU beat USF like a drum last year. It was a 56-14 beatdown in Tampa. If this were the 2023 power rankings for the state of Florida, FAU would have a good case to be ahead of USF. So why didn’t that matter for 2024? Well, in addition to those teams going in opposite directions after that midseason matchup — USF ended up winning 7 games compared to 4 for FAU — USF ranks No. 8 in percentage of returning production while FAU is No. 120 after it lost 34 players via the transfer portal. On a neutral site, I’d take USF to win that matchup in 2024. FAU coach Tom Herman inherited an uphill climb. His task of getting FAU to its first bowl game of the post-Lane Kiffin era will be difficult.

5. USF

I’m an Alex Golesh believer through and through. The job he did to take a 1-win program and turn it into a winning season in Year 1 was nothing short of incredible. While everyone was focused on the Alabama takeaways from that sloppy game in Tampa, Golesh used that as a foundational building block for his squad. USF ranks No. 8 in America in percentage of returning production, and more impressively, Golesh told me they didn’t lose a single portal player that they had intentions of keeping. At the Group of 5 level, that’s everything. I look forward to seeing what QB Byrum Brown (3,292 yards, 26 TDs) can do in Year 2 under Golesh’s tutelage. If he takes that next step, USF will climb up this list and into the 12-team Playoff discussion for the Group of 5 level.

4. UCF

I don’t think UCF was as bad as 6-7 would indicate, but that’s somewhat irrelevant for 2024. What’s more relevant is that in Year 4 of the Gus Malzahn era and Year 2 in the Big 12, he added transfers KJ Jefferson and Peny Boone who should be ideal fits in his offense, which also returns star receiver Kobe Hudson. The issues are on defense, where UCF struggled after DC Travis Williams left to take the same role at Arkansas. Incoming DC Ted Roof will have a bunch of new pieces from the portal to work with. There are still significant questions coming off UCF’s first year in the Big 12, but fortunately for us, we’ll get that matchup in The Swamp in early October to answer some of them.

3. Florida

I know. You think I’m sleeping on Florida. You’re gonna tell me that the Gators have a better team than what the schedule suggests. I agree. I also think it’s fair to point out that Florida is 10-23 in its past 33 games against Power 5 competition. The Gators’ defensive issues still linger, especially when their only All-SEC defensive player of the past 3 years, Princely Umanmielen, left for Ole Miss. I’ll admit that Graham Mertz exceeded my expectations last season, and I love the potential of Tre Wilson as a breakout candidate in the SEC. But a wildly inconsistent offensive line with an unproven defense suggests that Florida needs to show up with bad intentions for that opener against Miami if skeptics like myself are going to change their thinking.

Speaking of Miami …

2. Miami

The margin between Miami and Florida will be put to the test in Week 1. That’s the beauty of this matchup, which has Miami as a 3.5-point favorite via DraftKings in The Swamp. Do I think the Hurricanes’ offseason of spending is fueling a bit too much optimism? I do. I say that as someone who likes transfer QB Cam Ward and is excited to see him operate with better surroundings than what he had at Washington State. Honestly, that’s the only reason I have Miami slightly ahead of Florida. But I like that the Canes ranked in the top 30 in offensive yards/play and defensive yards/play, and they’re No. 29 in percentage of returning production. Year 3 of the Mario Cristobal era will have a ton of eyeballs on it.

1. Florida State

If you’re doubting Florida State for the top spot because of all the talent that left for the NFL, ask yourself this: Do you believe in Mike Norvell? Or better yet, do you believe in Cristobal or Billy Napier more than Norvell? No chance. Norvell’s 2024 squad won’t be the depleted one that took the field against Georgia in the Orange Bowl. FSU might not have spent like Miami, but portal additions will be a big part of FSU’s 2024 identity, which bodes well for how successful Norvell has been in that department. DJ Uiagalelei is who he is at this point of his career, which is a perfectly fine college quarterback who’ll give FSU a chance to prevent significant regression after a 13-win season. Behind a veteran offensive line, he should be able to operate well enough to take care of business against both Florida and Miami. And defensively, Patrick Payton will solidify that group up front after losing early-round picks Braden Fiske and Jared Verse.

Until further notice, the Sunshine State crown rests in Tallahassee.