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The much anticipated Labor Day showdown with Miami is now less than three months away.  That means you can start thinking about getting together the family-favorite tailgating recipes, dusting off the old garnet and gold wardrobe, and preparing for the Saturday tradition of Florida State Football at Doak Campbell Stadium.  

Every football season brings a new air of excitement to Tallahassee.  There is nothing like the summer before a new football season.  We've all been there.  The preview magazines hit the shelves in local bookstores, the latest polo shirts and new Nike apparel becomes available, and it is impossible to get your fix of Seminole football until the beginning of the fall.  That nervous feeling sets into your body and those three months before football season seem like an eternity.  

Well we have the solution.  For the next 12 weeks, the Seminoles.com staff will preview every game for the 2009 season--starting with the Florida game and working our way through the schedule leading up to the Miami game on September 7th.   Each week, we will take a look back at memorable moments in Seminole history, give you insight on opponents and returning players, and preview each matchup as the summer progresses.  

The great thing about college football is that no one--not even those TV analysts--has a complete idea of what is going to happen this season.  Sure, most people have a good feeling that Florida State's offensive line will be one of the best units in the ACC, Dekoda Watson will lead a veteran defense along with Patrick Robinson, and Christian Ponder should have a much better grasp of the offense this season.  But the surprises and nail-biting games of a new season are what make college football the most anticipated sport of the season.  It's that time of year, Seminole fans.  Are you ready?

The voice of the Seminoles, Gene Deckerhoff, said it best last November when Florida State welcomed Florida to Tallahassee.

"It looks like the Seminoles in the endzone is written in cursive," Deckerhoff said, referencing the fact that the torrential downpour of rain before and during the game had done a number on the always-snazzy paint-job of Bobby Bowden Field.

And for FSU fans, the outcome of the game turned out to be just as depressing as the weather as the Seminoles fell 45-15 to the Gators.

Florida, which has now won five-straight over FSU and would go on to win the national championship, scored on five of its first seven possessions in the ballgame.

As for the Seminoles, backup quarterback Drew Weatherford came in as relief for Christian Ponder halfway through the third quarter and sparked the only touchdown drive of the afternoon as Jermaine Thomas ran into the endzone from four yards out.

For the game, Antone Smith led FSU with 58 yards rushing on 12 attempts and Thomas, who is the Seminoles' starting tailback entering the 2009 season, contributed 37 yards on eight carries. Wide receiver Jarmon Fortson also added 22 yards on one carry.

In addition to his 22-yard run, Fortson nabbed a 42-yard reception while fellow receivers Greg Carr, Rod Owens, Preston Parker and Bert Reed all had two catches apiece for a combined 79 yards.

In the history of the FSU-UF series the Gators have had the upper hand, boasting an all-time record of 32-19-2.

But while the Seminoles lost often to Florida in the early years of the football program, head coach Bobby Bowden has done his part in restoring order. With Bowden as coach, the Seminoles are 16-16-1 against the Gators and will be looking to move to above .500 in the series come November 2009.

A lot can change in five months but one thing is certain: barring any unforeseen circumstances such as a season-ending injury to a key player, Florida is going to be very good this season.

That's not an easy thing to admit if you're a Florida State fan but from returning personnel alone, it's clear the Gators have a talented team.

The question is, can FSU end the curse that is five-straight losses? The Seminoles exorcised the demons so to speak a few years ago when they officially put an end to a seven-game slide against another in-state rival in the Miami Hurricanes.

Only time will tell if they can bring back some of that magic this season.

Brandon Spikes - Linebacker
For a defense that did not allow a touchdown in five of the last eight games last season, the defense for the Florida Gators is not the weakness that it once was.  Anchoring a defense that returns all 11 starters is first-team All-American Brandon Spikes.  Spikes was projected by many to be a very high draft pick on the first day of the 2009 NFL Draft.  Yet he decided to come back to school to compete for a third national title.  That is good news for the Gators and bad news for everyone else.  Spikes is a player who has to be accounted for at all times on the field.  Last year he had two interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns.  Keeping the ball away from Spikes will go a long way in knocking off the Gators.
   
Tim Tebow - Quarterback
Everyone knows that the offensive player to watch for Florida is Tim Tebow.  The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner is returning for his senior season and expectations are once again sky-high.  Yet it has been an off-season full of changes for Tebow and the Gator offense.  Former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen is now the head coach at Mississippi State.  He is replaced in Gainesville by quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, formerly of the Detroit Lions, and Offensive Coordinator Steve Addazio.  Tebow has proven that he is a multi-dimensional player having rushed for a school record 43 rushing touchdowns.  But it will be Loeffler who is charged with helping to develop Tebow's passing game to play at the next level.  How these changes will help or hinder Tebow is the biggest question for Florida.  One thing is for certain: the emotions will be at an all-time high on senior day at Florida Field when the Seminoles come to town for the final regular season game for both teams.

Offense Starters Returning:  64% (7 of 11)
Riley Cooper (WR), Jeff Demps (ATH), Aaron Hernandez (TE), Carl Johnson (OL), Markice Pouncey (OL), Mike Pouncey (OL), Tim Tebow (QB)

Defense Starters Returning:  100% (11 of 11)
Ahmad Black (S), Jermaine Cunningham (DE), Joe Haden (CB), Janoris Jenkins (CB), A.J. Jones (LB), Lawrence Marsh (DT), Terron Sanders (DT), Brandon Spikes (LB), Ryan Stamper (LB), Justin Trattou (DE), Major Wright (S)

Starters Lost:  18% (4 of 22)
Percy Harvin (WR), Louis Murphy (WR), Phil Trautwein (OL), Jason Watkins (OL)

Every Florida State fan has one of those "where were you?" moments when it comes to the Seminole and Gator rivalry.   The Choke at Doak, the Chris Rix touchdown pass to P.K. Sam, and the Charlie Ward touchdown pass to Warrick Dunn at the Swamp are arguably three of the greatest moments in Florida State football history--and every Seminole fan remembers them like it was yesterday.  Here's a look back at those three moments.

November 29, 2003: Florida State at Florida.
The #9 Seminoles (9-2) visited the #11 Gators in front of more than 90,000 fans on the Thursday after Thanksgiving.  At the time, Florida came into that game with one of the hottest winning streaks in the country, but what ensued down in Gainesville was one of the premier games during the 2003 college football season.

After coming off a dramatic double overtime win against NC State, Florida State needed just one more win to get their first 10-win season in three years.  Chris Rix led the Seminoles to a 17-6 lead at halftime off of two touchdown passes and some incredible kickoff returns by Leon Washington.  But the Gators stormed back in the 2nd half and took a 34-31 lead with just 2:50 left in the game.  On 4th and 14 from their own territory, Chris Rix and Dominic Robinson hooked up on a frozen rope pass over the middle to give Florida State a first down on their own 48-yard line.  The next pass was pure Seminole magic.

With just 1:09 left on the clock, Rix then rolled out of the pocket to his right and threw a hail mary pass to P.K. Sam, who spun around Florida defensive back Guss Scott for a 52-yard touchdown and a 38-34 lead that the Seminoles never relinquished en route to a 10-win season.  The Seminoles then paraded into the locker room, hoisting a gator head over the heads in pure excitement in one of the greatest moments against the Gators. 

November 25, 1994: Florida at Florida State
The Choke at Doak, The Comeback, The Gator Failure: no matter what you want to call it, it was incredible.  The Seminoles pulled out the most dramatic tie in college football history for the fans that stuck around after three quarters of misery in Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida State was loaded with talent that year, as Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, and Andre Wadsworth all suited up for the garnet and gold in 1994.  In another top-10 matchup between these two schools, the #7 Seminoles were outplayed by the #4 Gators for 45 minutes of football--and then the fourth quarter happened.

Down 31-3, Florida State junior quarterback Danny Kanell threw for 421 yards and led the Seminoles to four straight touchdowns in front of 80,000 screaming fans in Tallahassee.  Steve Spurrier couldn't believe what he was seeing, as future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel threw a costly interception to Seminole cornerback James Colzie to lead to the tying touchdown with just 1:45 left in the game.

On the Florida 4-yard line, Kanell handed off to running back Rock Preston, who broke through the right side of the line and dove into the end zone for the Seminole touchdown right in front of the raucous Florida State student section.  It was pure chaos in the stands.  The stadium has never rocked that hard and been that loud--it was a miracle finish that every Seminole fan will never forget.

And what made that tie even sweeter was the 23-17 Seminole win over the Gators in the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd to give Florida State a 10-1-1 record at the end the 1994 season. 

November 27, 1993: Florida State at Florida
It was the perfect ending to a national championship season for the Seminoles.  To get to the national championship, Florida State had to go through the Gators in the Swamp in front of a hostile crowd--and they did just that.

In terms of historical significance for Florida State Football, this is the moment in the rivalry.  With Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward at the helm, the Seminoles put together an incredible play with 5:28 remaining in the game.  On his own 21-yard line, Ward eluded Gator pressure and rolled left out of the pocket to find a cutting Warrick Dunn on the 31-yard line.  Dunn then got a key block from Tamarick Vanover and raced down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown and a 33-21 lead that the Seminoles never relinquished.   Dunn strutted into the end zone and Ward sprinted down the field, throwing up a number 1 with his right hand in pure jubilation.  The crowd was stunned, and thousands of Florida State fans in attendance went nuts.

The Seminoles were number one, they were going to the national championship, and they had a Heisman Trophy winner for the first time in school history.   You just can't get much better than that.

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