I think it benefited Florida State more because they were physically beaten up after the Clemson game and to have to turn around and play a bitter rival right after that may have been too much. Remember they lost Cory Niblock on the last play of the game at Clemson so they at least could use the open week to get their line in order. They also could have Leon Washington (RB) and Kamereon Wimbley (DE) back. It helped both teams emotionally to have the week off and maybe if the last open week is indication for the Gators, UF will use it to add some looks on both sides of the ball.
Brady: Do you think the SEC East is down and has the power shifted to the West?
There have been some dominating teams out of the West the last two years with LSU and Auburn, which I think are the two best teams in the SEC this year. The West may be the better division but the East might be a bit deeper. Tennessee, Vandy and Kentucky are better than Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The top of the division has had their way with the East with Auburn beating Georgia, LSU beating Florida and Alabama beating South Carolina. I would rate the SEC order of power this way: 1. LSU; 2. Auburn; 3. Georgia; 4. Alabama and Florida (tie); 6. South Carolina.
Ack: What's at stake for the Gators on Saturday?
It could be an Outback Bowl berth and a January 2 game (no bowls on January 1 this year since it's a Sunday and that goes to the NFL). If UF wins it will finish 8-3 and with Bama headed to the Cotton and Auburn or Georgia to the Citrus, the Gators could still sneak into the Outback. I am not sure Georgia goes there two years in a row. A loss and the Independence and Music City bowls will be battling for the rights to the Gators. Also a win by the Gators keeps hopes alive of a nine win season. Florida has not won two in a row over FSU since the 1996-1997 season.
Brady: Why is FSU struggling?
First, turnovers have hurt FSU in recent week. Secondly the fact that they have never developed a solid running game has caught up with them and put Drew Weatherford in a tough situation. Teams are blitzing and getting pressure while neutralizing the run game. The defense has just given up too many big plays by taking a lot of chances.
Ack: Do you expect any wrinkles from the Gators?
Usually the week off is good for offenses but I would not be surprised if UF made some defensive adjustments. Their defensive package has gotten "stale" in recent weeks and they have not gotten after the quarterback as much as they would like. Look for the Gators to blitz FSU more with different looks early. Offensively, I have to believe Dan Mullen has some special plays up his sleeves he has been holding on to. This game could end up being a track meet and I would think Florida has some "special" plays for FSU.
Ack: What is one key stat that Florida needs to win to come out on top in the game?
Points! Just kidding! I think most people will point to turnovers, an area where UF has been very good while FSU is not so good. Also, FSU is 0-3 when the other team scores first. I think this will be a well played game, so look at the Gator third down percentage on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Gators are pretty good but in big games have given up key third downs. Offensively, the Gators were very good on third downs in the big games (Georgia and Tennessee) that they won while they struggled on third downs in the losses (Alabama, LSU and South Carolina).
Brady: Compare Urban Meyer's first year against other first year head coaches?
Les Miles has had the best first year record but he inherited a truly loaded team. Miles has also gone 2-1 in overtime games and it took a miracle play to win at Arizona State or he could be 7-3. Charlie Weis is a game better at 8-2 but has played a schedule that is void of great opponents. USC is obviously very good and the win over Michigan is solid but they have not beaten any other quality opponents and did lose a game to a team with a losing record. Meyer's losses are to 9-2 Alabama, 9-1 LSU and 7-4 South Carolina. All three losses were on the road. Meyer has the third best record of first year head coaches and with a win Saturday can finish ahead of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, and ahead of other guys like Walt Harris at Stanford and Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh.
Ack: What do you think of former players criticizing Urban Meyer's team or system?
I have not heard a bunch of criticism from ex-players about Coach Meyer. I talk to a lot of guys who think UF has underachieved but that is just the way guys are. They will support UF and want the Gators to get back to the glory days of the 90's. Players, like fans, have opinions and sometimes guys will say things that are not for me to mention on my radio show or written in my column. That is just the way it is and until UF gets back to Atlanta and in a BCS game you can expect a few negative opinions. You had to expect some mumbling after Spurrier beat UF with so many former players having wanted to see Spurrier back at UF.
Ack: Which senior will be most missed after this final game?
All the seniors will be missed because they were good Gators who endured a transition in the gator football program. The greatest coach in school history (Spurrier) left and for the seniors, the program is on its second head coach since then. Mike Degory is one of the best to play center at UF and Jarvis Herring has had a solid senior season. Vernell Brown is the local boy who proved all of us wrong and became a top flight SEC defensive back. But, the one guy they may miss the most is Jeremy Mincey, a junior college transfer that leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and has 3.5 sacks this season. In his brief career he has accounted for a total of 27 negative plays and 111 tackles. Those are big time numbers for the defensive end position.
Brady Ackerman can be heard on ESPN radio Gainesville-Ocala on AM 900 and AM 1230. Brady's website is http://www.bradyackerman.com