FightinGators.com Publisher: This is very key right now. Florida is missing last season's starting nose tackle in Lawrence Marsh, he has not started at all this year with a high ankle sprain that will not go away and he is doubtful for the game this Saturday. They also missed starting three-technique Jaye Howard who beat out last year's starter Terron Sanders. Howard is probable, but will miss practice time. Justin Trattou has started at the nose when the Gators go to a three-man line and he is now out for an extended amount of time due to a bicep injury.
Sanders and freshman nose guard Omar Hunter have played very well and Sanders started all of last season. They will be fine inside. Behind them is basically no one that has any meaningful minutes and you would probably see ends slide inside instead of using the depth behind the starters. Getting Jaye Howard back is key as he can also play in the three-man line at nose.
Right now, junior Duke Lemmens will start at the nose in a three-man line which I expect to see a lot of because of the spread offense at MSU.
Compounding all of this is the groin injury to middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. He will miss playing time, but is probable for the game.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Are the Florida offensive miscues this year in any way related to losing Mullen, or is it all due to losing Harvin and others?
FightinGators.com Publisher: I am sure there is something with missing the guy that was one of the original architects of the Meyer spread option offense. Probably the comfortability involved with play-calling and such. Still, the loss of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy as dynamic playmakers that can get them out of a jam is a big thing.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Are the tendencies of the offense this year different than years past?
FightinGators.com Publisher: It has been a much more run-oriented offense so far, but that has been totally dictated by injuries and the way defenses have been playing the Gators. It is kind of silly that defenses want the Gators to run as the receivers are the ones that are truly untested in this offense.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Since Tebow's injury the offense hasn't seemed to be as productive. Has the injury affected his decision-making ability, or are they playing more conservative? Do you see Spikes' injury as more significant than Tebow's given the ability of Brantley, Tebow's backup? Also, how close to 100% is Spikes.
FightinGators.com Publisher: They went conservative against LSU not really to protect Tebow against injury, but because of the rust involved with being out of practice for nine days. They still rolled up 200 yards of rushing against LSU on the night being conservative. They tried to open it back up against Arkansas, but four turnovers, three in the red zone, were brutal to trying to score more points and have any continuity on offense.
Spikes should play, it is hard to tell with a groin pull as he was ready to play Saturday when he injured it on Wednesday and lasted only two plays. The Gators are pretty deep and experienced at linebacker although they didn't play well against Arkansas with Spikes out of the game.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: How does Tim Tebow feel about playing his former mentor?
FightinGators.com Publisher: Tebow has a lot of respect for Dan Mullen and they have been through a lot of wars together. My guess is that it will only help fuel his fire for the game trying to impress Mullen.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: When Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida, how much of the offense was due to him and how much was due to Meyer?
FightinGators.com Publisher: Florida actually puts a lot on all of their assistants on offense to help in game planning and even calling the game on game days. Mullen is meticulous to say the least. He pays strict attention to detail and that is one huge reason I know Meyer loved him as a coordinator. I think Meyer and Mullen and all of them will tell you it has more to do with the players than anything and having Tebow, the perfect quarterback for the spread option offense, doesn't hurt.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Do Mullen and Meyer exchange information, including suggestions, on common opponents?
FightinGators.com Publisher: They would never say it publicly, but yes.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: As talented as Florida is with the recruiting class that they have had in recent years, why do you feel they are coming up short at the wide receiver position. Other than Cooper, they appear to not have any consistent big-time play makers or great speed threats.
FightinGators.com Publisher: It is the big question right now among Gator faithful, but the injury bug is part of that along with attrition. Remember, Percy Harvin only spent three years on campus. 5-star receiver Jared Fayson was supposed to be the next guy and he transferred to Illinois after his second season. Deonte Thompson was the next 5-star prospect and he is the fastest receiver on the team and just starting to get in a groove. Carl Moore was a 5-star junior college prospect at receiver and he has missed the entire season so far with a back injury. Andre Debose was the gem of the 2009 class and he is out for the year with a knee issue.
Injuries and attrition are part of the game, but Florida has had their big share of those problems at receiver.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: The Gators' last trip to Starkville resulted in a loss and Ron Zook's firing. How much did that single loss have to do with Zook's firing? His leaving was announced mid season, right after the loss.
Also, was the loss to Mississippi State such a disgrace that it caused him to lose his job or was it a culmination of losses that did him in?
FightinGators.com Publisher: Oh the legends around that faithful day are many. That game was definitely the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak. Depending on who you talk to, Zook was given the vote of confidence days before that game only to have it taken away from him the day after.
If you are asking that a loss to MSU was much worse than a loss to say Georgia? Well...yes. I believe that was Croom's first conference win, so that certainly didn't settle right with anyone in charge. But, the Gators were used to winning 9-11 games before Zook showed and the natives were getting restless winning seven.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Having not won in Starkville in over 20 years (going 0-4 since 1986), does that offer extra motivation for the Gators?
FightinGators.com Publisher: One senior player was asked that on Tuesday and didn't even know it. I am sure it will find its way on the bulletin board before the game, but it hasn't really been that stressed so far. There is plenty of motivation with the way the Gators have played lately and having Mullen and John Hevesy on the opposite sideline to keep them focused.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Given the chance, do you think Meyer would run up the score against his former pupil's team if the opportunity presented itself to stay or get back to #1? Conversely, do you think he would take his foot off the gas if Florida went up by over 3 TD's?
FightinGators.com Publisher: I don't think he would rub Mullen's proverbial nose in it, at the same time, the Gator offense has been struggling and if the chance arises I think he would want to get his offense in a real groove. Right now this almost seems a strange question to ask because the offense hasn't scored as much as usual. I just don't see him slowing down if they finally get things going.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Where does Tim Tebow fit in the NFL - every down quarterback, wildcat, tight end or in the next Superman movie?
FightinGators.com Publisher: I think the NFL is starting to realize that the spread can and will work in the league. Tebow has some issues to work through, but I think he is an every down quarterback on the right team and on a team that is willing to make a change in their offensive philosophy.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Do Florida fans fear Notre Dame could steal Meyer if the job comes open? And if that did happen, would Mullen be a serious candidate for the Florida opening?
FightinGators.com Publisher: Some may not believe this, but Meyer believes Florida is a better job than Notre Dame right now. The schedule may be easier up there, but his cupboard is very full with talent at Florida and he continues to recruit like he is going to coach here for quite a while. I just don't think you put the effort in recruiting like Meyer does and then leave it to someone else.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Since UF now has a couple of recent national titles under their belt, how has that, or will it affect future strength of the non conference scheduling? Will the opponents scheduled be stronger so as to eliminate doubt at the end of the season, or will they become weaker as the desire for an undefeated season has a greater priority?
FightinGators.com Publisher: The Gators cannot help that Florida State is not very good right now. That game six years ago was harder than any game on anyone's non-conference schedule. People want to discard that fact, but it is true. Troy was a two-time bowl team and it looks like they may be turning it around and in a bowl again. The Gators had Miami on the schedule last year with FSU also. Plus, they keep LSU every year as their constant foe in the SEC West. Last year they ended up with the second toughest schedule in the country when all was said and done. I don't think the Gators have anything to apologize for with their schedule.
They add South Florida next year and Miami back on in a couple of years. The bottom line is that the Gators' schedule year in and year out is one of the top five in the country.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: How much has the offense shifted to fit the QB throughout Meyer's tenure? What was the transition from Leak to Tebow like? Do you have confidence that they can shift back to a pass-first attack next year with Brantley?
FightinGators.com Publisher: It is tougher to go away from the Tebow run oriented quarterback, but Brantley will surprise people with his athleticism. To be honest, I totally believe they love a two-quarterback system to make teams have to prepare more for their offense. Unfortunately for Brantley, he is sitting behind a Heisman trophy winner that is hard for the coaches to take off the field.
I'm not sure how smooth the transition will go in the beginning, but this staff certainly adapted with Leak at the helm. Just ask Ohio State.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Of the two, Florida and Alabama, who do you feel deserves the No. 1 and No. 2 ranking? And explain your reasoning behind your selection.
FightinGators.com Publisher: They are really close right now. Alabama's marquee win was over Virginia Tech, but I have a hard time validating any win over an ACC team this year and VT just showed their true colors against Georgia Tech last week. Bama looked a lot better against Arkansas while Florida looked a lot better against Kentucky, their two common opponents.
Florida has been banged up or had the flu since the Tennessee game and once healthy on both sides of the ball I think they are the better team.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.