Nov. 23, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This is how this rivalry is supposed to be played.
Florida versus Florida State. Top-10 teams in a matchup with potential national-title implications. Another in a long line of big games between two programs vying not just for state but for college football dominance as well.
It's No. 6 Gators against No. 5 'Noles Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Doak Campbell Stadium and for the first time in more than a decade, the annual rivalry game carries with it a weight that's splash could make waves across the college football landscape.
"I think from a fan standpoint and everything that goes on it's hopefully back to where it should be where it's like this every year," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Now in his third year in control of the program, Fisher also has to hope that the renewed national ramifications don't alter the recent trajectory of the series.
Since taking over for Bobby Bowden after the 2009 season, Fisher hasn't lot in both tries against back-to-back Gators (10-1) squads that weren't nearly as good as they are this season. The 2010 campaign saw FSU (10-1) end a six-game losing streak with a 31-7 trouncing at home of its biggest rival and last year the Seminoles went into The Swamp and left with a 21-7 win despite accruing less than 100 yards of total offense.
But this isn't the same UF team from the past two years.
"It's what you come to Florida State for," FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "I feel like it's going to be a great game. Florida's well coached. They've got a lot of talent. I feel like they are one of the few teams that matches up with us talent-wise."
Where they match up best with Florida State is on defense.
While the 'Noles lead the nation in total defense, Florida is nipping on their heels with a No. 4 overall statistical ranking. All of the primary defensive rankings seemingly feature the Gators and Seminoles somewhere in the top 10 because of the balance, playmaking ability and game-changing habits across all three levels of both teams' defenses -- from defensive line to linebackers to the secondary.
Florida isn't nearly as good on offense -- the Gators are 104th in the nation in average yards per game -- but that hasn't stopped it from registering 10 wins and being in position to find its way into the national-championship discussion should the dominoes fall the right way. The 'Noles haven't had much trouble on that side of the ball, ranking 14th in the country in total offense, but they also haven't faced a defense nearly as good as the one they'll square off against on ABC's national broadcast.
"They are a great defense," FSU tailback James Wilder, Jr. said. "They are a fast defense, they are a strong defense, they are a disciplined defense. This game is going to show us where our offense is."
And it could show the nation -- and perhaps the computers -- that the Seminoles are deserving of a higher ranking than No. 10 in the BCS standings. FSU will continue to be a long shot for the national title game but a victory over the Gators doesn't hurt in that up-hill quest.
Of course, that isn't the only thing on the line Saturday. An FSU triumph extends the program's winning streak over the Gators to three games, secures a third consecutive state championship and keeps Fisher undefeated against in-state opponents.
It also sends out the senior class -- the group of guys that has sparked the rebirth of the program -- out on a well-deserving high note.
"I think this year may be the biggest game against Florida since I-don't-know-when because both of us are top-10 teams," said FSU defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, one of several . "It's going to be a big game. Last game at home for the seniors. It's going to be a special game."