Bragging rights in the Sunshine State and positioning for some of college football’s top bowl games will be up for grabs on Saturday night, as Florida hosts Florida State in Gainesville. This rivalry has been dominated by the Seminoles recently, as coach Jimbo Fisher has won four out of his five matchups against the Gators. But Florida has a chance to stem the momentum within this series, as new coach Jim McElwain has guided the program to a 10-1 record in his first season.
Even though the fate of both teams in terms of conference championships has already been determined, there’s still plenty at stake in this rivalry. The Gators have clinched the SEC East title and will play in Atlanta next week. However, a win against Florida State would bolster Florida’s resume and help position McElwain’s team for a shot at the Sugar Bowl – assuming it loses in the SEC Championship. The Seminoles are also fighting for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, and a win over the Gators would move Fisher’s team one step closer to a spot among the top 10-12 teams and in discussion for a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach or Fiesta Bowl.
Florida leads the all-time series against Florida State 34-23-2. The Seminoles have won two in a row in Gainesville.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida’s Defensive Line Against Florida State’s Rushing Attack
Florida’s rushing defense has been stingy this season, limiting opponents to just 108.3 yards per game. Only two opponents – LSU and Tennessee – managed more than 145 yards on the ground against this defense, and the Gators have allowed just one rushing score in their last four games. But this defensive line is banged up entering Saturday night’s matchup against the Seminoles. Coach Jim McElwain could be playing mind games with his injury report, but it’s notable the first-year coach mentioned standouts Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister as unlikely to play. Is that correct or is the first-year coach exaggerating the injury report? Additionally, Jordan Sherit, Joey Ivie and Taven Bryan are also dealing with ailments that could sideline them for this matchup. Even if all of those players are sidelined, Florida’s defensive line still has plenty of talent to make life difficult for Florida State’s ground attack, which is led by Dalvin Cook. The sophomore ranks third nationally by averaging 147.5 rushing yards per game and has recorded at least 106 yards in five out of the last six games. Can Florida State’s offensive line win the battle at the point of attack? Or will Florida’s defensive line – with or without their injured stars – contain Cook and force quarterback Sean Maguire to win this one through the air?
2. The Quarterbacks
Both teams enter Saturday night’s matchup with their preseason No. 2 quarterback now running the show on offense. For Florida State, Sean Maguire replaced Everett Golson after the loss at Georgia Tech and has started three out of the last four games. Golson helped the Seminoles start 6-0, but Maguire brings a stronger arm and more of a big-play element to the passing attack. The junior has tossed only two picks on 117 attempts and has completed at least 64 percent of his passes in three out of the last four games. This matchup against Florida will be Maguire’s toughest since the road matchup at Clemson. Florida’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation, and the secondary is headlined by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. For the Gators, Treon Harris was inserted into the starting lineup after Will Grier was lost for the season due to a suspension. Since taking over the starting job, Harris has passed for six touchdowns and tossed four interceptions. He’s also capable of making plays on the ground, recording 198 yards on 62 carries this season. In a matchup with little margin for error on either side, both quarterbacks have to maximize their opportunities and limit any turnovers or mistakes.
3. Florida’s Offensive Line
Florida’s offensive line entered the season as one of – if not the No. 1 - biggest concern for McElwain. This unit returned only one starter and has experienced its share of ups and downs in 2015. The Gators have allowed 33 sacks through 11 games and are generating just 3.6 yards per carry. In last week’s overtime win over FAU, Florida managed only 130 rushing yards on 44 attempts. Additionally, three starters – Martez Ivey and David Sharpe, along with center Cam Dillard – are dealing with injuries. That’s not ideal with Florida State’s defensive line up next. The Seminoles’ defensive front has benefited from the addition of former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to coach defensive ends. Florida State is allowing 143.1 rushing yards per game but has surrendered only seven scores on the ground. This group also has 25 sacks, which is eight more than it had all of last season. Will this group hold up to give Harris enough time to throw and to open rushing lanes for running back Kelvin Taylor?
Points will be at a premium on Saturday night. Florida State has more weapons on offense but is averaging only 16.8 points per game in road matchups this season. The Gators need a mistake-free game from quarterback Treon Harris, while the offensive line will be under heavy pressure from an aggressive and athletic Florida State defensive line. In a tight game, turnover margin will be critical to watch. Florida has an edge over the Seminoles in that department, sporting a healthy +10 margin to a plus-four mark for Fisher’s team. In a tight game, field goals and generating big plays could decide who wins on Saturday night. Florida State has the edge on field goals with kicker Roberto Aguayo, as well as the top skill player in this game (Dalvin Cook). It won’t be pretty, but the Seminoles pick up their fifth win in six years over the Gators.