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Saturday, November 29th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Florida Gators control their own destiny for a trip to the national title game, and they will attempt to avoid an upset this weekend against 23rd-ranked Florida State in a non-conference rivalry contest. Since 1979, this game has been scheduled as the regular season final for both universities.
Florida's only loss of the season came in late September to Ole Miss by one point. Since then, the Gators have won seven games in a row, including a 70-19 romp over The Citadel last weekend. Every win during the current streak has come by at least 28 points, proof of the club's dominance. The Gators will collide with top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game, and the winner of that tilt will almost certainly earn a spot in the national championship game, provided that both Florida and 'Bama win this weekend.
As for Florida State, it is fresh off a 37-3 romp over Maryland last weekend. The Seminoles now must cheer for the Terps this week, as a Maryland victory over Boston College on Saturday would put the 'Noles in the ACC championship game. FSU is 8-3 overall, and the three losses have come by 10 or fewer points.
Florida owns a 31-19-2 series lead over Florida State, including four straight wins over the Seminoles.
Florida is racking up 46.5 ppg this season on the strength of 444.6 total ypg. The offense is led by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Tim Tebow, who has rushed for a team-high 11 scores to go along with 22 passing touchdowns. Tebow has only thrown two interceptions this season and has completed 65.8 percent of his tosses for 2,114 yards. He is surrounded by tremendous talent, and the versatile Percy Harvin is the most dangerous weapon of all. Harvin has rushed for 525 yards and eight touchdown on only 55 carries, and he leads the team in receiving with 35 grabs for 595 yards and seven scores. Harvin should be in the Heisman discussion, as no player nationally has done more with such a limited number of touches. Chris Rainey and Jeffery Demps are a pair of freshmen speedsters who have made big-time offensive contributions, mainly from the tailback position.
Florida racked up 705 total yards against The Citadel last weekend in a game that was over before it started. Tebow only threw 11 passes in the contest, completing nine for 201 yards and three scores. Rainey ran for 142 yards and one score on seven attempts, and Harvin scored as well. "He is one of the top two or three players in the nation," said head coach Urban Meyer about Harvin. "There are things that I've seen him do that I've never seen anyone else do."
Many fans and analysts talk about the Florida offense, which is loaded with weapons as mentioned. Defensively, however, the Gators rank near the top of the national charts in many key statistical categories. Most importantly, they are third in scoring defense, yielding a mere 12.0 ppg. They are ninth in total defense (278.7 ypg) thanks to top-20 standing in both rush and pass defense. The Gators have recorded 20 interceptions, tied for second among all FBS schools, and the team has not allowed a single point in the first quarter over the last six outings. In fact, the team has yielded just seven points in the first quarter all year. Ahmad Black has intercepted six passes for the Gators, six of which he has returned for touchdowns. As for Brandon Spikes, who leads the team with 74 tackles, he has returned two of his three picks for scores.
It was a bit surprising that The Citadel scored three touchdowns against Florida last weekend, all on drives of more than 70 yards. The Gators yielded 317 total yards, and while the scores came after Florida had built a comfortable lead, more is expected of the national powerhouse.
Considering the fact that Florida State finished with 37 points against Maryland last weekend, it is surprising that the team only posted 19 first downs and 332 total yards. The Seminoles averaged a modest 4.1 yards per rushing attempt and only eight yards per pass completion. Fortunately, they didn't commit a single turnover and held the ball for over 36 minutes, in part because of a 7-of-13 effort on third down conversion attempts. Quarterback Christian Ponder ran for a team-high 81 yards and one score, and he also passed for 143 yards and a touchdown. "Ponder played very well," said legendary Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden after the game. "As we can attest for the last eight or nine years, you simply cannot win without an excellent playing quarterback."
The Seminoles are posting 34.3 ppg this season on 380.2 total ypg. Antone Smith leads the club with 14 rushing touchdowns, and Ponder has thrown for 12 scores. The quarterback has struggled at times, however, so it will be interesting to see how he performs against the tough Florida defense.
It is hard to imagine the Florida State defense playing any better than it did in the game against Maryland last time out. FSU only yielded 252 total yards and came up with four takeaways while limiting the Terps to 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 9.3 yards per pass completion. Safety Myron Rolle grabbed most of the headlines before and after the game, but it had nothing to do with his play. Rolle earned a Rhodes Scholarship, and he arrived to the game late, registering two tackles in limited action. "When we found out that he won the Rhode Scholars, it was like we got one win already," said Bowden. "That was very big for me and our staff, and of course for him and his family. Our team was very excited about that."
Derek Nicholson paces FSU with 70 total tackles, including 13 TFLs. Everette Brown adds 20.5 TFLs to the mix and 12.5 sacks, and he is one of the nation's most feared pass rushers.
Expect Florida to take care of business on the road this weekend, although the Gators aren't likely to add another blowout to their resume'.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 31, Florida State 17
11/26 10:39:13 ET