ACC: Will Muschamp

The Florida-Florida State rivalry has been one built on runs. Only three times since 1968 have the teams alternated wins over a three-year period.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher ended a six-game skid to Florida in his first season as head coach in Tallahassee, and now he has Florida State on the verge of its fourth win in five seasons against the Gators. In all three FSU wins under Fisher, the Gators have been held to seven points.

Adding to the rivalry this season has been quarterback Jameis Winston, who has goaded Gators fans seeking his autograph by signing his name and last year’s score, 37-7, on the Florida memorabilia.

However, Florida has the distinction of being the last team to hand FSU a loss, although it came all the way in 2012, 27 games ago.

ESPN reporters Edward Aschoff and Jared Shanker break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry:

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Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Gators know they can't allow Jameis Winston to be comfortable in the pocket.
Key to victory for Florida: If the Gators are going to win this game, they have to run the ball well. That’s how they upset Georgia, and that’s the only way Florida will leave Tallahassee with a win over the Seminoles. Florida averaged 201 rushing yards in conference games and piled up 418 on Georgia to open the month. FSU has allowed 416 rushing yards in the last two games, which means the Gators will have to heavily rely on running backs Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, who have the one-two-punch ability to frustrate a defense that has been far from elite this season.

Key to victory for Florida State: Jimbo Fisher said he will dial up the film of Florida’s win over Georgia because the Bulldogs employ former FSU assistant Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, and the Noles still run a similar scheme. Florida State has struggled to stop the rush all season, and Florida ran all over Georgia. What Florida State has to do, as it has all season, is stop the run in pivotal situations. Florida State is significantly better against the run in the second half, and if the Noles can keep Florida’s offense off the field in the second half, it will give Winston the requisite time needed for a comeback if it once again comes to that.

X-factor for Florida: While running the ball will be key for the Gators, you have to take Winston out of the game. Winston is very good against the rush, but you have to force him into bad situations if you want to beat him. Putting pressure on him will be key for Florida’s defense, and that’s where end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. comes in. The future first-round draft pick has been one of the SEC’s most disruptive players this season (credited with 15 quarterback hurries), and if he can force Winston to rush his throws it will be a major advantage for Florida’s defense.

X-factor for Florida State: There’s no point in ignoring the obvious. Anytime Winston suits up for Florida State, he is the Seminoles’ X-factor. He is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and college football’s premier prime-time player. No deficit to this point has been too large for Winston, who continually rises to the occasion in the game’s tensest moments. He leads the country with four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and has a QB rating of 194.26 when trailing by 15 or more points. For Florida to win, it will have to keep Winston out of the end zone for more than just the first half.

Aschoff’s favorite moment from the rivalry: Watching Warrick Dunn in this rivalry was fun, and so was having the game decide the national championship after the 1996 season. But two memories really stick out to me because I was actually there for them: Ron Zook getting carried off the field in 2004 (didn’t they rename the field “Ron Zook Field” after that?) and the 2008 Florida team’s impressive rain-soaked win in Tallahassee. The one thing about the 2008 game that really sticks out is how Tim Tebow, covered in garnet paint, taunted FSU’s student section after a touchdown because Seminoles fans cheered when Percy Harvin went down with an ankle injury. To this day, that 2008 Florida team is the best team I’ve ever covered.

Shanker’s favorite moment from the rivalry: No doubt those games were memorable ones and that 2008 image of Tebow will live on this rivalry’s lore for quite some time. However, I’m going with the 1994 “Choke at Doak.” I’ve watched it a handful of times over the last few years with the 20-year anniversary being this week, and it’s crazy how so many little plays added up to help FSU overcome a 31-3 deficit to tie it in the final minutes. That ’94 comeback makes this 2014 season look tame by comparison. This season’s renewal could go down in history, too, if Muschamp leaves like Zook did. I don’t know if Nole Nation would be able to take that a second time.

Florida carried Ron Zook off the field in his final game, an upset that remains so memorable, people continue to point to that win 10 years later.

Especially this week.

Because everybody wants to know: Can the Gators win one for Champ, the way they won one for the Zooker?

The similarities between Zook’s last triumph over Florida State and the 2014 Gators headed into the Florida State game on Saturday are too similar to ignore.

Both Florida teams 6-4. Both heavy underdogs. Both playing for an outgoing coach.

“We were in the same position those guys are in this year,” said former Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, a captain on the 2004 team. “Our coach got fired. We hadn’t beaten them in Tallahassee in a very long time, so it made us want to go out there and play for Coach Zook but also win at Doak. It happened to be on the same day they were naming the field for coach (Bobby) Bowden, so we wanted to go up there and upset every celebration they had.”

In the days leading up to the game, nobody gave down-and-out Florida much of a chance against the No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State had one of the best defenses in the country and had shut down just about every running back that came its way.

But Florida believed it had nothing to lose. To the Gators, all the pressure belonged to Florida State.

“Nobody expected us to win, and that just mentally makes you feel like, ‘We can go out here and cut it loose. Don’t worry about mistakes. We can go for it on fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3 because we’ve got nothing to lose and Florida State has everything to lose,’" Fason said. "As a Gator, we know we’re trying to keep them from get a national championship, and it being a rival game with nothing to lose that works to our advantage.”

Fason also believes the way Florida played in 2004 caught Florida State off guard. He ended up with 100 yards rushing in the game and was a big reason why the Gators won, saying the Seminoles were not prepared for their smash-mouth style.

After Florida took a 10-3 lead into halftime, Fason told his teammates he wanted them to carry Zook off the field if they ended up winning. They assembled around him in the final minute, a 20-13 win theirs to celebrate.

“As soon as that final tick went off the clock, everybody picked up Coach Zook,” Fason said. “It was the best moment of my life.”

And it still remains one of the top moments not only in Gators football history, but in Zook's career. Mike Degory, the starting center on the 2004 team, later coached with Zook at Illinois. Even there, Zook talked about the way the Gators won his final game there.

“He always used to say how much it meant to him, and how much he felt the commitment from the players was there,” Degory recalled. “Everybody knows after this week, Coach Muschamp is going to be looking for another job, but the players feel a lot of commitment to that coach. We wanted to send Coach Zook out a winner. What we had 10 years ago was a connection with Coach Zook. Deep down in my heart, that is the guy that I wanted to play for and we wanted to echo that by giving him that victory.”

Muschamp was even asked about it during his press conference earlier this week in Gainesville.

“That isn't going to help us win the game. I can assure you of that,” he said. “So we'll prepare well and we'll go up there and play well. That's what we need to do.”

Florida has a history of doing that under Muschamp. It was two years ago Florida went into Doak Campbell Stadium and forced five turnovers in a 37-26 win. Florida was a much better team then -- ranked higher than Florida State, in fact. But it also happens to be the last time the Seminoles lost.

Since then, Florida has not come close to another 11-win season, while Jimbo Fisher has won two ACC championships, one national championship and 27 straight games. But this season, Florida State has played in so many close games, the expectation is this will be another close one.

Especially if the Gators play as emotionally as they did for Zook in 2004.

“Emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we'll be emotional. To play Florida, our kids will be high. Our kids will be excited. I think you'll see two teams that are emotionally and physically ready to play, and then who can go out and execute and win the battles in the physical and mental execution will be the team that wins.”

ACC Upset Watch: Week 14

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It is the last regular-season weekend of the year. You know what that means: expect the unexpected.

With that in mind, plenty of teams are on Upset Watch in Week 14.

Saturday

No. 18 Georgia Tech (9-2) at No. 10 Georgia (9-2), noon, SEC Network. Line: Georgia by 13. At first glance, this line appears to be rather large considering how well Georgia Tech is playing heading into the matchup. The Jackets have won four straight, beat No. 22 Clemson and had an entire off week to prepare. They nearly pulled the upset a year ago, and have a far better team this season. Then there is the matter of how Florida gashed Georgia on the ground. Georgia Tech has been so much more effective offensively with its triple option, if it hangs onto the ball and continues to eat chunks of time off the clock, the Jackets will have an excellent shot to win.

South Carolina (6-5) at No. 22 Clemson (8-3), noon, ESPN. Line: Clemson by 4.5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some weird voodoo going on over Clemson. Maybe he's just in their heads. How else to explain the turnover margin during the Gamecocks' five-game winning streak? South Carolina has turned it over three times; Clemson 15. That includes a whopping six Clemson turnovers a year ago. All those mistakes have ended in pretty miserable losses. Clemson has lost each game by double digits. Given the way South Carolina has played this season, all signs point to a Clemson breakthrough. But will the Tigers have Deshaun Watson available? If not, will Cole Stoudt do enough to break the losing streak?

NC State (6-5) at North Carolina (6-5), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: North Carolina by 6.5. The Tar Heels are riding high off an impressive 45-20 win against Duke, but now they face their second straight rivalry game against a Wolfpack team that had a week off to prepare. Though their run defense played much better, NC State will try to continue to exploit weaknesses in that group behind Matt Dayes and Shad Thornton. The bigger question is whether the NC State defense has enough to slow down the unstoppable Marquise Williams, who has put on quite the offensive show down the stretch. This one could end up being a shootout. If that happens, anyone can win.

Florida (6-4) at No. 3 Florida State (11-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: FSU by 7.5. You are going to hear a lot about what Ron Zook and the Gators did to the Seminoles in 2004. A few similarities are hard to ignore -- Florida had nothing to lose in that game in Tallahassee, the final one under Zook. Florida was 6-4 going into the game; Florida State was a top-10 team. They are all points to keep in mind, especially given the way Florida State has squeaked by its opponents this season. Outgoing Florida coach Will Muschamp handed Florida State its last lost. Maybe he has something up his sleeve to give the Noles another on his way out. Plus, strange things happen in this game the last few years it has ended in a "4" -- 1994, Choke at Doak; 2004, Zookered!; 2014 ???

* Note: There is no line for the Pitt-Miami game with James Conner's status up in the air. Considering Miami (6-5, 3-4) is the home team, the Canes need to be on high alert for a Pitt team (5-6, 3-4) that will be desperate to become bowl eligible. Especially given their abysmal performance last week in a loss to Virginia.

** Note II: The line for Virginia-Virginia Tech is even, so tough to put anybody on upset watch in that game. The over/under, however, is set at 40.5. I would take the under on that.
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
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Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

On Sunday, esteemed ACC writer Andrea Adelson wrote a piece talking about how Florida isbehind instate rivals Florida State and Miami -- two teams the Gators lost to in 2013.

While I agree that Florida is behind these two at the moment, Andrea and I had a bit of an argument when it comes to the 2014 season. Even though Florida went an embarrassing 4-8 last year, I think that with an improved offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper and what yet again should be a fierce defense, the Gators will have a better record than Miami, which went 9-4 last fall.

Andrea disagrees, saying Florida's offensive questions and schedule will be too much, while the Canes have a more manageable schedule and a more proven offense.

We decided to take our argument to the public and debate both sides for you all to see:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel is back from his 2013 season-ending injury, and he's looking more comfortable in the new Florida offense.
Edward Aschoff: I have to admit, Andrea, your piece on Sunday about the three power schools in the state of Florida was spot on. I agree with everything you wrote, but then came Monday, when our conversation left us in disagreement. You think Miami, which went 9-4 and beat Florida last year, will finish this season with a better record than Florida. I have to disagree. Last year was a disaster of epic proportions in Gainesville, but the Gators lost 15 players to season-ending injuries, including starters such as Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Dominique Easley and Chaz Green. Florida won't have the same injury problems this fall, and expect a lot more from this offense with Roper (you know him pretty well) running the spread. I talked to Driskel and his receivers about the offense and they are way more comfortable with Roper's system, and they've been gassing a pretty good defense with the uptempo. The receivers are incredibly confident in the new system, and it's clear this is the offense Driskel was born to run. Florida does play Alabama and LSU from the Western Division, but LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and Florida State are all games the Gators will play in the state of Florida. Call me crazy, but I think that if this offense figures things out and the defense plays to its potential, Florida has a chance to win nine games in the regular season. Miami? How about eight?

AA: Edward, take the Gator head off and breathe deeply. Nine wins against that schedule? I agree Florida will be better, but it is hard to find more than seven wins given the opponents and all the unknowns on offense. And that is not just coming from me. A few months ago, a Gator fan walked up to me at a speaking engagement here at the Orlando Touchdown Club and said, "I will be so happy if we go 7-5!" How expectations have shifted in state. While it is true I have some doubts about Miami, too, I have two words to counter your argument: Duke Johnson. Miami has him; Florida does not. Maaaaaybe if the Gators had a dynamic skill player, I'd believe you. But they don't. Miami was 7-0 before Johnson got hurt last year -- including a win over the Gators -- and 2-4 without him. Need I go on?

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Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsFlorida doesn't have a proven skill player on a par with Miami's Duke Johnson.
EA: Gator head? Real original. Remember two names: Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson. Both sophomores have a chance to be special for the Gators. Taylor is leaner, quicker, faster and stronger. The coaches have raved about his improvements since spring practice began, and he should have no problem being the lead back from the start this year. He isn't as explosive as his father -- All-American Florida back Fred Taylor -- but he's shiftier and will be a real weapon in Roper's offense. As for Robinson, he barely did anything last year, but has finally found his focus. He's a big-play threat in this offense, and the coaches trust in him a lot more right now. He has really come into his own during practice this fall. The folks in Gainesville see him as that playmaker at receiver they have desperately needed. Driskel shouldn't have a problem using them. Speaking of quarterbacks, you suiting up to throw the ball for the Canes?

AA: Miami does have a hole at quarterback, a hole I have pointed out repeatedly (and much to the chagrin of Miami fans). But I don't mean to sound like a broken record here. Talented skill players have this way of making their quarterback look good. Driskel has struggled, in part, because he has had no help. Miami will provide its starter with a plethora of help, from potential 1,000-yard receiver Stacy Coley, to deep threat Phillip Dorsett to tight end Clive Walford. Just to name three. Aside from Johnson, Miami is deep and talented at running back, too, and its offensive line has been solid. I am not going to win any arguments between the Miami D vs the Florida D. Gators have the edge there going away. But a talented (and high-scoring) offense can easily cover up for an average D. Miami has one of the tougher schedules in the ACC with difficult crossover games, just like the Gators. In the Canes' case, it's Florida State and Louisville. They've also got a tough nonconference game at Nebraska. When I look at the schedule, I think Miami has 10 winnable games. Doesn't mean they are going to win all of them, but it means they have a better shot at getting there than Florida.

EA: I told you to watch out for Robinson and Taylor, but Florida has a few more options at both receiver and running back. I expect veterans Quinton Dunbar and even Andre Debose to make noise in this offense, but really keep an eye on sophomore Ahmad Fulwood. He can stretch the field and is a big boy over the middle. We know about Matt Jones and Mack Brown at running back, but freshman Brandon Powell could be really special. He missed spring but has been blowing up in fall practice. He can do a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Florida will be more competitive using a lot more space in Roper's offense. As for the schedule, it isn't easy. Florida plays six teams ranked in the AP top 25, including No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama on the road. But I'll continue to stress that three of those games are at home and Georgia is in Jacksonville, Florida. An improved offense that can actually take some pressure off the defense can get three wins out of that slate.

AA: Maybe I should tint my glasses rose to match yours. Seriously, though, this debate serves as a reminder that these rivals need to play more often (that is a different debate for a different time). This needs to be settled on the field! The race to chase Florida State is tough to handicap. I don't think Miami is quite back to returning to its past glory, but I do think the Canes have the capability of building on their success from a year ago. Quarterback might look messy now, but coaches have been raving about the maturity and ability true freshman Brad Kaaya brings to the table. The defense looks better so far in preseason camp, and Denzel Perryman could have an All-American type season. If Miami is solid at quarterback and makes improvements on defense, this team will be better than Florida. Again.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Garrison Smith is prepared for the inevitable and knows what he has to do against Georgia Tech on Saturday -- something Florida's defenders struggled to accomplish in last Saturday's upset loss against a similar Georgia Southern offense.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIGarrison Smith and Georgia's defensive line will have to be disciplined taking on Georgia Tech's option offense.
“You've just got to use your hands and keep [the offensive linemen] off your legs. That's what you've got to do,” the Georgia defensive lineman said. “You're going to get cut [blocked]. That's going to happen. But you've just got to keep playing.”

Smith's first substantial playing time actually came as the result of a questionable cut block that knocked DeAngelo Tyson out of Georgia's 2011 win over the Yellow Jackets. Smith, then a green sophomore, replaced Tyson in the lineup and recorded seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, earning SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week honors in the process.

Defensive players don't like dealing with triple-option offenses like Georgia Tech (7-4) and Georgia Southern run, and specifically don't like having to keep their eyes out for pesky offensive linemen who consistently dive at their knees.

“It's just like being out on the streets: you've got to keep your head on a swivel and watch your surroundings,” Smith said. “Protect yourself at all times.”

Otherwise you could suffer Tyson's fate. Or even if you manage to protect yourself, you might fail to fill the proper gap and be the goat when the Yellow Jackets break a long run.

That was the issue for Florida's defense last weekend against Georgia Southern, when the Eagles ran 54 times for 429 yards and upset the Gators 26-20.

Afterward, Gators coach Will Muschamp admitted that the challenges presented in defending that scheme leveled the playing field for the FCS Eagles.

“That's why a lot of these schools run it -- because it takes talent out of the equation,” Muschamp told reporters this week. “A lot of talented guys don't like having somebody at their knees every snap, either.”

Georgia (7-4) has improved in each successive game against Georgia Tech's option since Todd Grantham became defensive coordinator in 2010. That first year, the Yellow Jackets ran 77 times for 411 yards and Georgia barely held on for a 42-34 win. The Bulldogs have won easily in each of the last two seasons, with Tech running 53 times for 243 yards in a 31-17 loss in 2011 and 67 times for 302 yards in last season's 42-10 defeat where their only touchdown drive came against reserves in the fourth quarter.

The problem for Georgia, however, is that only three regulars -- Smith, cornerback Damian Swann and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins -- have played much against the Yellow Jackets' unique attack. It's entirely different from what Georgia's players and coaches see the rest of the season, so that real-time experience is valuable for all parties.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee and Georgia Tech's offense are averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game this season.
“I think the more you see anything, the better you feel about it from that standpoint,” Grantham said. “But they're going to mix up what they do. Every year they try to change up and tweak it.

“But the bottom line, it gets down to players making plays, players executing, being where they need to be, playing with good pad level, playing physical and doing all the things you need to do to stop that kind of offense. Because it's really a team-oriented defense to play against, meaning you've got to take care of your assignment and trust someone's going to be somewhere else because if you don't do that, then you create a seam and that's when they get the explosive plays.”

Tech has largely been successful in that regard. As per usual under Coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets rank among the national leaders in rushing offense (fourth at 316.1 yards per game). They have scored 16 touchdowns -- 11 rushing, five passing -- that covered at least 20 yards and rushed for 200-plus yards in every game but one. In fact, they've rushed for more than 250 in all but their losses to Virginia Tech (129 yards) and BYU (237).

As long as Georgia's first-time starting quarterback Hutson Mason and his cohorts keep Georgia's high-scoring offense on track, the Bulldogs don't need to hold Tech to fewer than 200 rushing yards to win. If the Bulldogs keep grinding against Tech's deliberate attack and consistently arrive where they're supposed to be to make stops, they should survive.

“Everybody's got to do their job,” said Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, the SEC's leading tackler with 119 stops. “Me and Amarlo [Herrera], the inside-box guys, we've got to stop the dive. And we've got two outside linebackers that have got to stop the quarterback. And we've just got to make the plays. If we don't make the plays, we get gashed, so we've got to do our job and everything should be all right.”

That's easier said than done, however, as Muschamp can attest.

“You've got to have your offense moving and scoring because as long as [Tech's offense is] on track and on schedule, it's pretty effective,” Grantham said. “It's when there's a separation and they're off track, whether it be down-and-distance or score, then it becomes more difficult. So that's kind of a team thing right there. Fortunately we've been able to do that the last couple years. But it's a challenge to play it.”

Fisher, Muschamp take diverging paths

November, 26, 2013
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The most obvious sign their paths would diverge appeared in the first week of September. Jameis Winston announced himself as a future Heisman candidate with a near perfect performance in Pittsburgh, setting Florida State on its way from afterthought to contender.

Five days later, Jeff Driskel and his teammates bumbled their way to five turnovers in yet another avert-your-eyes performance at Miami. A string of team-crushing injuries ensued, setting Florida on its way from contender to catastrophe.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SearsFSU's Jimbo Fisher (left) and Florida's Will Muschamp are good friends and have a lot in common, but this year they have seen their programs head in opposite directions.
The two best friends could not have more contradictory fortunes. Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp -- groomed in the same coaching tree and working their first head coaching jobs -- have had seasons for the ages but for opposite reasons.

Muschamp has had to watch his Florida team come apart so spectacularly, his job security has been a daily topic for weeks. Meanwhile, his close pal has brought Florida State together so completely, the gap between the two programs is as wide as the 150 miles that separate Gainesville and Tallahassee.

That dichotomy must be hard to swallow for Muschamp, especially when you consider how his team thoroughly beat the Seminoles physically and on the scoreboard just one year ago. How must Muschamp feel watching Fisher enjoy so much success, knowing it further amplifies his own problems?

“I worry about Florida,” Muschamp said Monday. “I worry about what we need to do and where we are and what we need to improve. That’s what all my concentration is on. Obviously the game each week, you focus on the other team and prepare for that team -- and they’ve got a heck of a football team and they are having a heck of a year. That’s how I view things.”

A look at the Florida roster reveals little in the way of the offensive talent or overall depth Florida State has this season. It is true the Gators have sustained more injuries to starters than just about any team in America. Of the 22 players who started against Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January, only six were available last week in a horrendous loss to Georgia Southern.

But injuries cannot be the only excuse. Questions about the offense and depth have followed Muschamp since he arrived in Gainesville. Florida did win 11 games a season ago, but the Gators had one of the worst offenses in the country and their defense was exposed in the loss to Louisville.

Quarterback has been a consistent issue since Tim Tebow left. Driskel came in as the No. 10 player on the ESPN 150 in the class of 2011 but has yet to live up to his advance billing.

Contrast that with Winston, who was actually rated lower on the ESPN 150 in the class of 2012 at No. 14 overall. Fisher could end up with a third quarterback taken in the first round in his Florida State tenure, and has some of the best talent and depth at receiver in the country. Incredibly, his team in 2013 is better after losing a record 11 picks to the NFL draft in April.

Most impressive is how the Noles have performed despite a staff full of new coaches, hired to replace assistants who went on to bigger, better jobs this past offseason. And yet the one constant on offense remains Fisher, who works without an offensive coordinator and has called the plays since his arrival. Contrast that to Florida, which is likely to make offensive staff changes for the third time under Muschamp.

What seems clear now is that Fisher benefited from serving as coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden. As maligned as the idea was not only at Florida State but elsewhere, Fisher had the necessary preparation for his first head-coaching job. In Year 3, he won 12 games, an ACC championship and a BCS game. Not only has Florida State put together top recruiting classes over the last several years, Fisher has maximized the talent he has brought on campus and built a two-deep that rivals Alabama.

Muschamp also served as a coach-in-waiting, but under Texas coach Mack Brown. He got his first head coaching job at Florida, a surprise hire to many, and has seemed in over his head throughout his tenure. Now in Year 3, Muschamp has never won an SEC title or a BCS game and will post the first losing season at Florida since 1979.

After the loss to Georgia Southern, the calls for his job grew more intense. Muschamp was SEC coach of the year a season ago but right now, that feels like 100 years ago.

“We have no patience in this world anymore,” Fisher said Monday. “Everything is what have you done for me lately. It’s just the way things go. I don’t think it’s right. I think that’s some of the things as far as when you look at the history of organizations, ones that have had patience seem to be the ones that really have the best true teams over longevity than ones that don’t come to rash decisions very quickly.”

Fisher offered words of support, saying he was confident Muschamp would get through the trying times. “He’s a great guy and a heck of a football coach. Will knows this business, he’ll handle it very well,” Fisher said.

Indeed, it was not long ago Florida ruled the state, winning six straight in the series between 2004-2009. That, of course, was before Fisher and Muschamp started down their own head coaching paths. Where Fisher has succeeded, Muschamp has been left alone, trying to find the right way out.
The votes are in and the readers have spoken when it comes to deciding which Florida school -- Florida or Florida State -- had the better year in 2012.

With more than 12,000 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Florida State took home 58 percent of the vote, while the Gators earned just 42 percent. ACC blogger Andrea Adelson and I took our argument for both teams to the blog on Friday, and while I made the case that the Gators overachieved and the Seminoles underachieved, Florida State still walked all over Florida in our poll.

You could make an argument for both teams, but I just felt that after going 11-2 with even a chance of making it to the national championship game following a 7-6 season in Will Muschamp's first year, the Gators clearly had the better year. Did it end with an embarrassing bowl loss? Yes, but the Gators weren't even supposed to sniff the Sugar Bowl when the season started.

Florida State was a legitimate national championship pick during the preseason, but fell short against a less-talented NC State team and was beaten soundly by Florida at home to close the regular season. Granted, the Seminoles took care of business after that, winning the ACC title and then destroying Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, but those regular-season losses were bad ones for the Noles.

The Gators might have owned the SEC's worst passing offense, but their only slip-up during the regular season came against eventual SEC Eastern Division champ Georgia. Florida also ended the regular season with four wins over top-10 teams.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl disaster aside, the Gators, who rose as high as No. 3 in the BCS standings, had quite the second year under Muschamp.
Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesCoaches Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp led their respective teams to double-digit wins in 2012.
The good ol' days returned to the Sunshine State in 2012, as both Florida and Florida State were nationally relevant again. Both teams finished ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first time since the 2000 season as Florida State won 12 games, and Florida won 11.

But who had the better season? Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi asked that question earlier this week. Now, SEC blogger Edward Aschoff and I are here to settle the debate once and for all.

Adelson says: Chop over Chomp

The answer to this question is as easy as 1+1. There is no way Florida had a better year than Florida State. Not with that big fat L tattooed all over Florida. Make that a double LL tattoo: LOUISVILLE LOSS.

Here is what Florida State did in 2012 that the mighty Gators did not do:

  • Florida State won its BCS game, avoiding the shame and embarrassment that still stings in Gainesville.
  • Florida State tied the school record for wins in a season with 12.
  • Florida State won its conference.
That is a winning trifecta right there, and should deem any argument from the SEC moot.

What? Florida beat Florida State head-to-head? Noles fans cannot hear you because they have championship rings plugging up their ears. Still one of my favorite comeback lines of all time.

I watched that game in Tally. Florida was the better team that day, and deserved to win. Florida had the more surprising season, too, considering nobody expected the Gators in a BCS game. Will Muschamp did a terrific job turning around a seven-win team into an 11-win team. I give them credit for all that.

But a head-to-head win against Florida State does not automatically mean the Gators had a better season. A season where expectations were exceeded is not better than a year in which every single expectation was met. Did folks think Florida State could compete for a national championship this year? Yes. Was it disappointing when Florida State fell short of that? Yes.

That disappointment does not define a season, however. At the start of every single season, coaches will tell you the goal is to win a conference championship. Bigger goals follow. Florida may have beaten Florida State on the scoreboard, but the Seminoles won in the much bigger category.

They are champions, two times over.

Aschoff says: Chomp, chomp!

If you turned on your computer for the first time since August and saw just the final records of Florida and Florida State, I guess you could say the Seminoles had a better season in 2012. If you look at the final games for both schools, you’d probably go with the Noles again, considering they blew out Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, while Florida was beaten down by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Seems easy enough, but when you look at the total body of work, Florida clearly had the better year in 2012. For starters, this team wasn’t even supposed to win nine games. It was an eight-win team at best but won 11, was a win away from going to the SEC title game in Atlanta, went to a BCS bowl game and handily beat Florida State IN Tallahassee in the process. Despite having the worst passing game in the SEC, the Gators went 7-1 in the country’s toughest football conference, with that lone loss coming to a Georgia team that was 5 yards away from taking Alabama’s spot in the BCS title game. Oh, and Florida was a missed Pittsburgh field goal away from playing in the national championship.

Florida State was supposed to be in a BCS bowl. The Noles were supposed to be national title contenders and they fell flat against NC State (the same NC State that was pummeled by Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl) and were roughed up 37-26 by Florida at home. If anything, 2012 was a major disappointment for the Noles.

Florida took down Johnny Football IN College Station and beat up LSU at home before blowing out South Carolina by 33. Florida beat four top-10 teams with basically an elite defense and a running game led by a first-year starter in Mike Gillislee.

Florida had some ugly wins, but this team found ways to win and ended the regular season No. 3 in the BCS standings.

Did I mention that Florida did all of this in the SEC, while Florida State underachieved in the ACC?

Video: Florida-Florida State pregame

November, 24, 2012
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Heather Dinich talks about who needs a win more in Tallahassee.

ACC: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 23, 2012
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Who will transform tomorrow with a huge performance in Week 13?

We are going with a duo: Florida State defensive ends Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner. Given the way both have played this season, there is no doubt Florida will have its hands full trying to slow them both down. And that will be a major problem for an offense that has not been very productive this season.

The No. 4 Gators have struggled all season on offense, from scoring points, to establishing their passing game to protecting the quarterback. Florida has allowed 32 sacks, ranking No. 104 in the nation. Carradine and Werner are the most prolific sack duo in the country. So yes, that is going to be a major problem for the Gators to solve.

Just look at what these two players have done so far:
  • Carradine leads the team in total tackles with 69, and has 11.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and eight hurries. Werner has 33 tackles -- 14.5 are tackles for loss, with 9.5 sacks. Werner has seven pass breakups and five hurries.
  • Carradine leads the ACC in sacks, and Werner ranks second. The last time a pair of teammates finished the year ranked 1-2 was in 2005, when Mario Williams and Manny Lawson did it for NC State.
  • Only three pairs of FSU defensive players have ever combined for more sacks in a season than Werner and Carradine.
  • Werner and Carradine are one of only two sets of teammates in the top 15 for sacks in the FBS.

“They’re very athletic, they’ve got girth, they’ve got size, they’ve got speed, they’ve recruited," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "They’ve got a lot of depth. They throw a lot of guys in there who play and play well, and when you lose a guy like Brandon Jenkins to start the season and you’re able to still play at a high level and rush the passer well with four guys rushing, that says something about your recruiting. So they do a good job. They’re very similar to what we’ve seen in our league."

With all due respect, Werner and Carradine are better than what Muschamp has seen in the SEC this season, and a huge key in this game.

NoleNation links: UF is only focus

November, 21, 2012
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David Hale writes: Questions about BCS computers and conference championships are going unanswered by Florida State this week, as its singular focus is in-state archrival Florida.

Corey Dowlar writes Insider: Four-star FSU defensive end commit Davin Bellamy, who hails from Georgia, has only ever been to two college football games -- in Athens, Ga., where he watched the Georgia Bulldogs play. This weekend, he’ll be treated to what will likely be a mighty overwhelming first experience at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

Dowlar Insider: FSU comes in at No. 12 in the latest recruiting class rankings, and the Noles owe a lot of their commitments more to what the team is about when it’s off the field.

Hale’s Big Board Insider: FSU’s punting game is well below the national average, while Florida’s is kicking on all cylinders.

Florida State and Florida rise again

November, 21, 2012
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Back in March, I did a three-city tour around Florida, stopping in Gainesville, Tallahassee and Miami with a very serious question:

When will the state of Florida rise again?

At the time, Florida State finished 2011 as the top-ranked team among the Big Three, at No. 23. Will Muschamp was getting heat from Florida fans after a disappointing season. Miami was under the cloud of an NCAA investigation. (And still is.)

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
Rob Kinnan/US PresswireJimbo Fisher is 5-0 against FSU's in-state rivals, Florida and Miami, since taking over as head coach.
Perhaps only Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher anticipated the rise back up would happen in just a handful of months. Indeed, No. 4 Florida and No. 10 Florida State meet Saturday as Top 10 teams for the first time since 2000. That probably has surprised many college football observers, but not Fisher.

“You have great programs, you have great availability of players, both groups have gotten good players and they’ve got a great staff and I feel we’ve got a great staff,” Fisher said Wednesday on the ACC coaches call. “Things are never as good as they seem, they’re never as bad as they seem. We knew we would be back, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit they’re back.”

Simply put, this rivalry is better when national championship stakes are on the line. Thirteen times between 1990-2000, both were ranked in the Top 10. They played for the national championship in 1996, after the regular-season finale between the two featured No. 2 Florida State upsetting No. 1 Florida.

In fact, six times in those 13 meetings the lowe- ranked team won the game. Several times national championship hopes were dashed -- aside from the title game in the Sugar Bowl. In 1997, Florida upset No. 2 and unbeaten Florida State, in a stunning upset, thanks to the way Steve Spurrier rotated his two quarterbacks.

Those were the good ol’ days. Then we saw a streak of five times within seven seasons that only one team was ranked headed into the game, taking away much of the luster surrounding the matchup, especially from a national perspective.

But now here we are again, with national championship hopes on the line for the Gators. If they can win and Notre Dame loses, there could be another potential SEC vs. SEC national championship game. If Florida State wins, the Noles would have their first three-game winning streak in the series since 1998-2000.

Fisher has yet to lose to Florida or Miami, going 5-0 against the two in-state rivals. In fact, the Seminoles have gone 1,091 days since losing to a team from Florida.

“When you’re both having outstanding seasons like we both are it definitely does (add something extra), because it has more national ramifications," Fisher said. “But our own personal deal, no. We take pride in playing against Florida much like they take pride in playing against us, but from a fan standpoint and everything that goes on, hopefully it’s back to where it should be, where it’s like this every year. It is a good thing, and I’m not against it, I promise.”

Final: Florida State 21, Florida 7

November, 26, 2011
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Defense wins championships -- and that includes state championships, too.

Florida State didn't win the Atlantic Division, and it wasn't quite the national title contender some had expected it to be, but when it came down to beating the in-state rivals, the Seminoles were 2-0 this year against Miami and Florida, and it won both games with defense. FSU beat the Gators with only 92 total yards of offense, but Florida had four turnovers and FSU's Devonta Freeman scored twice off of two of them. The Noles also got an interception return for a touchdown.

Neither of these programs is where it wants to be right now, and that was clear in this game, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has a head start on his friend and rival Will Muschamp, and that was evident tonight. Both teams were woefully inept, but the Noles' ability to create turnovers was the difference. FSU finished the regular season by winning six of its final seven games, but the Noles are going to have to find some offense between now and the bowl game. The Champs Sports Bowl still seems like the most likely destination for FSU, but if the Noles want to actually win it, odds are it's going to take more than 92 yards of total offense.

On a day in which the ACC continuously tripped up against the SEC, though, the ACC will take this one any way it can get it.

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