FSU looks to beat Florida for a school-record fifth straight time
Saturday's meeting in Gainesville will mark the first time since 2011 that neither Florida State nor Florida is ranked for their annual contest. Both teams come in at just 4-6. FSU will look to keep its bowl streak of 36 years alive by winning its final two games while the rival Gators will hope to play spoiler in their final contest of the season.
Florida has already fired head coach Jim McElwain and is in the process of a coaching search while at FSU, it's Jimbo Fisher's assistants that are likely to see the attrition. Both teams are coming off lopsided victories as the Seminoles topped FCS opponent Delaware State on homecoming, 77-6. Florida defeated UAB by a 36-7 margin.
Florida State will look to set a new school record by defeating Florida for a fifth straight season. The Seminoles have won each of the last three contests in Gainesville and have taken a shutout into the final quarter each time. Florida's last win at home over FSU was Tim Tebow's final home game in 2009.
Florida State at Florida
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
Saturday's contest will feature a matchup of inconsistent freshman quarterbacks. For Florida, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks (above, right) was the starter to begin the year, only to be benched in favor of Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire before ultimately getting his job back due to injury. Franks looks like a player that can be the total package with good size, athleticism and a big arm, but he has not been able to put it all together this season. He'll be facing an FSU defense that is good, but not as good as expected.
For FSU, James Blackman (right) is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Seminoles in 32 years. Blackman has a big arm and a seemingly bright future, but was forced into action after Deondre Francois went down with a season-ending injury in the opener against Alabama. Blackman is slight at less than 180 pounds, but he has managed to stay on the field during an up-and-down season. Blackman committed costly late turnovers in losses to Louisville and Clemson, but is coming off a career-high three touchdown passes against Delaware State on an afternoon in which he went an efficient 11 of 15 passing.
2. Big plays
Neither Florida State nor Florida defensively have been as good as expected, but against two offenses that rank 109th and 110th respectively in yards per game, both should have a pretty good day. Methodical drives will probably be few and far between on Saturday, so the team that scores the most points will probably be the one that makes the fewest mistakes and is able to get chunks of yardage down the field.
For Florida State, running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Nyqwan Murray provide that ability. Akers has proven to be a home-run threat this season while Murray has come along in recent weeks and is now among the ACC's leaders in yards per catch at 15.6. For Florida, the guy to watch is running back Malik Davis, who averages a team-best 6.7 yards per carry. Leading receiver Tyrie Cleveland has been known for his big-play ability, averaging 18.8 yards per catch, which included the game-winning 63-yard grab on the final play of the game in a 26-20 win over Tennessee in the Gators' SEC opener.
3. Special teams
There haven't been many areas where Florida has held an advantage over FSU in recent years, but one of them looks to be special teams. The combination of kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend may be the best in the country. Pineiro has virtually limitless range and has missed just one field goal on 17 attempts this season. Townsend's 47.9 yards per punt average ranks second in the country.
Since a dismal start, FSU has been better in the kicking game as both kicker Ricky Aguayo and punter Logan Tyler have had decent seasons. FSU may also have recently found a spark in the return game with DJ Matthews back deep to catch punts. The only touchdown for the Gators in last season's 31-13 loss in Tallahassee was on a fumbled punt. Florida hasn't scored an offensive touchdown against FSU since 2014 and that one came one play after a blocked punt. If Florida wants to end its losing streak to Florida State, special teams is an area where it will likely have to be better than the Seminoles.
Watching Florida and Florida State play football this season has hardly been a thing of beauty. Both teams have lost games they should have won, made wins closer than they should have been and were beaten badly by teams with a talent disadvantage. That said, the overall resume for FSU is slightly better as the Seminoles have faced a better slate, which includes three of the four teams in line for a berth in the College Football Playoff. This one likely won't be pretty, but the outcome should be close.
Prediction: Florida State 20, Florida 18