Okay, so it isn’t exactly an ideal situation for the Gators Saturday afternoon. It’s Will Muschamp’s final game as Florida’s head football coach, it’s in Tallahassee and the guy across the sidelines just happens to be his best buddy, whose team has won 27 games in a row and is on a mission to win back-to-back national championships. Jimbo Fisher and Florida State haven’t lost a football game since Thanksgiving weekend of 2012 when the Gators knocked them off, 37-26. If you had taken a poll back on that weekend, most folks who saw that game would have predicted a long and prosperous career at Florida for Muschamp and that Jimbo would be the guy who could be in the lame duck position at some point.
That seems like so long ago. Muschamp was at the peak of his success back then and now he’s a goner after this game. Jimbo wasn’t doing all that badly when he lost to Muschamp but no one predicted anything like this, a winning streak that’s longer than anything Bobby Bowden ever accomplished.
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Seminoles have everything going for them. They’re playing at home, they’re healthy and they’ve been tested nearly every way you can think. They are 11-0 this season because they don’t lose their cool when they fall behind and they don’t seem to make mistakes in the final five minutes of games.
The Seminoles are a formidable opponent. The game is on national television and they will want to make a statement that they don’t just belong in the college football playoff, but they merit the #1 seed. The last thing you’ve got to worry about is their motivation to play well against the Gators.
The Gators don’t lack for motivation, either, but we’re not really sure which Florida team is going to show up, do we? If it’s the Gators that stomped Georgia into the turf in Jacksonville, then the Seminoles are in for a street fight. If it’s the Gators that left their offense and special teams in the locker against Missouri, then this one will be over with in a hurry.
The Florida team that needs to show up is the one that leaves all the distractions in Gainesville and stays fully focused for 60 minutes. That team is very capable of turning Saturday into a Seminole pity party because if the Gators walk out of Doak Campbell Stadium with a win, the Seminoles can forget any talk of a repeat because they won’t make the Final Four. An ultra-weak Atlantic Coast Conference will ensure FSU is leapfrogged by teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC if the Gators spring the upset.
The motivation for the Gators should be two-fold: (1) Do it for Muschamp and (2) use this game as an audition for whoever is Florida’s next football coach. It’s also an audition for Muschamp. Once Sunday hits, he’s going to have his pick of several high profile defensive coordinator jobs and you can figure that there will be at least one or two head coach opportunities presented as well. If Muschamp can get the Gators to play their hearts out and snuff out FSU’s dreams of grandeur his stock will be soaring.
The Seminoles are favored to win by 7-1/2 points, a margin that tells us the folks in Las Vegas expect the Florida team that shows up Saturday will be ready to punch, bite, kick and and claw if necessary to win one last game for Will Muschamp.
For those who find it difficult to believe the Gators can pull it off, think back to both 1996 and 1997. FSU was favored to beat the Gators in the national championship game in 1996 and favored by two touchdowns to knock off the Gators and play for the national title in 1997.
We all remember what happened in both games. It could happen again.
You gotta believe.
This season: 75-22
Florida (6-4, 4-4 SEC) over #1 Florida State (11-0): The Seminoles have been escaping with wins over teams that aren’t as good as the Gators and certainly none of those great escapes was fashioned over a defense like the one Florida will present Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium. If the defense does its part and the Gators can generate enough in the passing game to keep the Seminoles from stacking the box, this will be extremely interesting. Off the field Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher are best of buds. When the Gators knock the Seminoles off their unbeaten perch and out of the national championship picture, the boat that is their friendship might take on some water.
#1 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) over #15 Auburn (8-3, 4-3 SEC): Auburn is a mere shell of the team that knocked off Ole Miss in Oxford. Bama, meanwhile, has been quietly building momentum. Win this one and the Crimson Tide is heading to Atlanta.
#4 Mississippi State (10-1, 6-1 SEC) over #19 Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3 SEC): Since Laquon Treadwell got hurt, the Ole Miss offense has all but disappeared and the defense has had some problems getting stops. Mississippi State will cap the greatest regular season in school history, but if Bama wins it won’t get the Bulldogs to Atlanta to play for the SEC title.
#9 Georgia (9-2, 6-2 SEC) over #16 Georgia Tech (9-2): Georgia should win this game. Emphasis on the word should. The Bulldogs are ripe for an upset and if they fall behind, Georgia Tech can play keep away with that funky offense. Watch this one for a potential upset.
#17 Missouri (9-2, 6-1 SEC) over Arkansas (6-5, 2-5 SEC): Arkansas has the momentum of consecutive shutouts against ranked teams to go with one of the best running games in the country. The Hogs are going to have to throw the ball to beat Missouri and that is where they will run into trouble with the ferocious pass rush generated by Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Missouri wins for a second straight trip to Atlanta, leaving Georgia out in the cold.
South Carolina (6-5, 2-2 SEC) over #21 Clemson (8-3): Heading into the season the three biggest games circled on the South Carolina calendar were Georgia, Florida and Clemson. The Gamecocks are 2-0. Steve Spurrier makes it six straight wins over Dabo Swinney.
#22 Louisville (8-3) over Kentucky (5-6, 2-6 SEC): Kentucky needs a win to get bowl eligible. Just one slight problem. The Wildcats have lost six in a row and haven’t played well since the loss to Mississippi State.
Tennessee (5-6, 2-5 SEC) over Vanderbilt (3-8, 0-7 SEC): The Vols will get bowl eligible with a win, which is quite an accomplishment in year two for head coach Butch Jones. This was one of those get Tennessee while you can kind of years. The Vols have a chance to be really, really good next year.
June Jones, SMU: June will be coaching next year, probably at Hawaii. SMU thinks it can throw a ton of money at Chad Morris (Clemson OC) or Tom Herman (Ohio State co-OC) and get them to come to Dallas.
Charlie Weis, Kansas: Someone will give Charlie a job in the NFL next year. The Kansas folks were thinking interim Clint Bowen was the perfect cheap replacement but after the blowout loss to Oklahoma last week, they’re re-thinking that situation.
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo: They screwed up by firing Quinn when the Bulls were 3-3. They are 4-6 now and can’t win enough games to qualify for a bowl because the Kent State game got postponed by a mountain of snow last week. They also don’t have much money to make a quality hire.
Norm Chow, Hawaii: The athletic department is swimming in red ink. Keeping Chow won’t help the bottom line because no one comes to Hawaii games. They really do need to hire June Jones again.
Brady Hoke, Michigan: The pressure is going to be intense to fire Hoke no later than Sunday morning so a campaign can mount to hire Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles. This could be the year that Les Miles says yes although there is some talk in the wind that if Mississippi State doesn’t make the playoff that Dan Mullen will be the guy.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: About the only question remaining here is when will the axe fall: after today’s blowout loss to East Carolina or when the Golden Hurricane limp back into Tulsa? Chad Morris would be smarter to take this job than SMU. He can win at Tulsa.
Trent Miles, Georgia State: The Panthers will get their doors blown off by Texas State Saturday which means Miles will finish his two-years on the job with a 1-23 record. In the Sun Belt, you should be able to be at least competitive with the third tier talent in metro Atlanta.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: Supposedly, Wilson and his staff have been told they’ll get another year because everyone understands the Hoosiers were 3-3 when Nate Sudfeld was healthy, 0-6 since he got hurt. All that could change if he loses to Purdon’t.
Tim Beckman, Illinois: There is not a lot of love for Beckman among the Illini faithful. He can create real havoc if he beats Northwestern to become bowl eligible. Do they keep a coach they don’t like or do they grudgingly concede progress?
Paul Petrino, Idaho: There is a simple solution for Idaho’s problems: keep Petrino as the head coach and drop down to D1AA and play in the Big Sky. The basketball team plays in the Big Sky. The football team needs to.
Ron Turner, Florida International: Turner can’t inspire his team to win nor can he inspire 20,000 or more to come to a football game. If he’s fired it only sets athletic director Pete Garcia up to do something else that’s dumb.
Bob Davie, New Mexico: Getting blown out last week by Colorado State didn’t help matters much. He probably buys a year if he finishes with a win over Wyoming Saturday. Lose and he is going to find it difficult to remain gainfully employed in Albuquerque.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue: Even though he won’t get fired if he loses, Hazell really does need to beat Indiana.
Ron Caragher, San Jose State: The Spartans were 11-2 the year before he arrived. They went 6-6 in 2013 and they’re about to finish the season 3-9 with a six-game losing streak this year. They don’t have a lot of money so Caragher might not get the axe this year, but he’s living on borrowed time.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: Does he get a year to do a farewell tour? If he beats Virginia to go bowl eligible he will have a year to arrange going out on his own terms. Lose and he might be “retiring” soon, although not exactly on his terms.
Al Golden, Miami: Al would do a lot of folks in Miami a favor if he would simply go somewhere, anywhere else but Miami. He’s got feelers out to several potential places, but doesn’t worry that he’ll get fired because (1) they really can’t afford the buyout and (2) Donna Shalayla is going to pay Al forward to the next school prez.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech: The folks in Lubbock are starting to think maybe they were a tad hasty to offer Kliffy an extension after his first year on the job. He’ll be coaching Texas Tech next year but he better produce or he’ll be on the Dead Man Walking List just like that.
Do you believe the Gators are capable of spoiling the Seminoles’ season Saturday?
Since the Gators are on the road in Tallahassee this weekend and they’re underdogs to an FSU team that has won 27 games in a row, it seems only fitting that today’s music is “Miracles” by Jefferson Starship.