Top 10 foes collide in Tallahassee on Saturday, when the sixth-ranked Florida Gators invade Doak Campbell Stadium to take on the 10th-ranked Florida State Seminoles in one of the nation's most heated rivalries.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles have their sights set on a BCS bowl bid and will get the opportunity to earn it on Dec. 1 in the ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech. FSU is 10-1 on the season and 7-1 in ACC play, capturing the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the conference title game. The Seminoles' lone loss came on Oct. 6 at NC State (17-16) and they have since won five straight games.
Will Muschamp's Gators will not participate in the SEC Championship this season and as a result, it doesn't look good in regard to them reaching a BCS Bowl game. However, Florida certainly exceeded expectations in 2012, winning 10 of their first 11 games, with the lone loss coming against Georgia on Oct. 27, costing the team the SEC East in the process. Florida shut out Jacksonville State last weekend (23-0) and became just the third Gator team to go 7-0 at home in a single season.
Florida holds a 33-21-2 series advantage with its Sunshine State rival, including a narrow 12-11-1 edge in games played in Tallahassee. Florida has won six of the last eight meetings, but the Seminoles have captured each of the last two matchups, including a 21-7 victory in Gainesville last season.
The Gators have strung together 10 wins this season, despite mediocre numbers on the offensive side of the ball. The ground game is the preferred mode of travel for the Gators at 189.5 yards per game, especially since the passing attack has struggled big time to the tune of a meager 143.4 yards per game.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel has completed a healthy 64.8 percent of his passes, but they have only gone for 1,324 yards, with a modest 10 touchdown passes. Driskel did not play last week due to an ankle injury. In his absence, Jacoby Brissett saw action, completing 14-of-22 passes, for 154 yards.
Muschamp expressed his confidence in Driskel's return for this game.
"What percentage will he be? I don't know right now," Muschamp said. "But he will play in the game. To what degree? Again, the week will determine that on how his health continues to improve."
The good news is that the team has a healthy tailback in Mike Gillislee, who has played eight games this season and rushed for 964 yards and eight TDs, showing flashes of game-breaking ability. Last weekend, Gillislee rushed for 122 yards and one TD.
The Gators rely on running the football and playing stingy defense. They have certainly done well in the latter all year long, limiting foes to a mere 11.7 ppg (third nationally), on 281.0 (fourth nationally) yards of total offense. Big plays have helped this unit as well, with 24 forced turnovers, including 16 interceptions.
Senior defensive back Josh Evans leads the team in tackles (74), with two interceptions. Fellow DB Matt Elam is next in line (58 tackles), tied for the team-lead with DB Jaylen Watkins with three INTs each.
Florida's stellar secondary will be put to the test by a Florida State offense that has moved the football at will this season, both on the ground (212.1 ypg) and through the air (281.5 ypg).
Unlike the Gators, Florida State has enjoyed stability and efficiency under center with quarterback EJ Manuel, who has completed almost 70 percent of this passes, for 2,785 yards, with 21 TDs against six INTs.
The Seminoles lost some depth in the backfield with a season-ending injury to top tailback Chris Thompson (7.5 ypc, 687 yards), but there is adequate depth to be found in the form of tailbacks Devonta Freeman (534 yards, 7.0 ypc, seven TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (501 yards, 5.8 ypc, nine TDs).
Florida State's defense is every bit as stifling as the Gators. The Seminoles rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and leads the nation in both rush defense (70.6 ypg) and total defense (236.3 ypg).
A frenzied pass rush is spearheaded by standout rush ends Cornellius Carradine (team-high 69 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, team-high 10.5 sacks) and Bjoern Werner (33 tackles, team-high 14.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks). Other playmakers on this side of the football for FSU include linebacker Christian Jones (67 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, two fumble recoveries) and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (29 tackles, two INTs) and Tyler Hunter (20 tackles, three INTs).