SEC: Jimbo Fisher


Here’s a quick preview of Monday night’s VIZIO BCS National Championship (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):

Who to watch: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner, who will be playing for a national title on his 20th birthday, has a chance to become the first freshman quarterback to win a national championship. Only one sophomore or freshman starting quarterback has ever won the BCS National Championship, and that was Alabama's AJ McCarron as a sophomore. Winston can also become just the third quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy all in the same season. Winston, who has dominated the headlines both on and off the field this season, has proved to be the game’s best player, but Auburn is confident in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s game plan to pressure him into uncharacteristic mistakes.

What to watch: Florida State’s defensive line against Auburn’s offensive line. This matchup will feature two of the nation’s best fronts, which both feature future NFL talent. Auburn’s strength all season has been its running game, and the Tigers have no plans of abandoning that now. The Seminoles, though, have every intent of slowing the Tigers down and forcing them to win with their passing game. Auburn has run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage for any non-triple-option offense in the FBS. The Tigers lead the nation in rushing yards per game and runs of 25 yards or more. Tre Mason leads the SEC in almost every major rushing category, and his seven 100-yard rushing games against SEC defenses are the most in a season for any player in the last 10 seasons. FSU leads the nation in scoring defense, though, and is No. 13 in the country in rushing defense.

Why to watch: The SEC’s streak of seven straight national titles is on the line, and if Auburn wins, the conference will have claimed 10 of the 16 BCS titles. The last time an SEC team lost a true national championship game to a team from outside the conference was when Nebraska beat Florida to end the 1995 season (1996 Fiesta Bowl). Auburn is also playing for the fifth straight national title for the state of Alabama. With wins over then-No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 5 Missouri in its previous two games, Auburn has a chance to become the first team in college football history to win three consecutive games against top-five teams. For Florida State, it’s the program’s first appearance in the BCS National Championship in 13 years. Both coaches -- Auburn’s Guz Malzahn and FSU’s Jimbo Fisher -- are playing for their first national titles. It’s also historic, as this year’s game will be the last in the current BCS system before the four-team College Football Playoff begins next season.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Auburn 35. The Tigers have been a team of destiny this season, while the Seminoles have been a team of dominance. Florida State is the deeper, more talented team, and that will show against an Auburn defense that has been average this year. While the key to the game is up front, and whether FSU can slow down Auburn’s running game, the difference will be in the likes of Winston, FSU wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Seminoles running back Devonta Freeman. It’s not that Auburn can’t pass the ball -- quarterback Nick Marshall’s Hail Mary beat Georgia -- but Florida State does it better. If Auburn is trailing and gets behind in down and distance, Florida State’s defense -- particularly the secondary with Lamarcus Joyner -- will be too good for the likes of Sammie Coates to bail the Tigers out. Monday is the day the SEC’s streak comes to an end and Florida State returns to the pinnacle of college football.

Video: Malzahn, Fisher talk title game

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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher sit down with Rece Davis to discuss their team's participation in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Video: BCS title -- better coaching staff?

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ACC reporter Heather Dinich and SEC reporter Chris Low debate which BCS national championship team, Florida State or Auburn, has the better coaching staff.


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wouldn't have missed this for the world.

The only question, as it turns out, was which side of the field he would be on Monday night in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

[+] EnlargeEllis Johnson
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIWhile Ellis Johnson's defense has had its struggles, the Tigers are second in the SEC red zone defense and third in sacks.
Johnson, one of the most respected defensive minds in college football, was one of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s top targets when Mark Stoops left Florida State to become Kentucky’s head coach.

But one of the first calls newly hired Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made after getting the job was also to Johnson, who was fired after one forgettable 0-12 season as Southern Miss’ head coach.

“It was close. I guess I could have been on the other side,” Johnson said Saturday during media day. “I actually got a call from someone Jimbo and I both know before I even got fired at Southern Miss.”

To say the least, Johnson was intrigued and remembers telling his wife, Caroline, that the Florida State situation was ready-made.

“We really thought we were looking at a three-year deal here at Auburn,” Johnson said. “Nobody expected this, but I knew they were going to win at Florida State.”

After meeting with Malzahn, Johnson was scheduled to meet with Fisher, but didn't want to drag it out any further; he knew Auburn was where he belonged.

Getting back into the SEC was important for Johnson, as was getting a chance to work under Malzahn. But, ultimately, Johnson made his decision for family reasons.

He’d taken his family out of Columbia, S.C., which was home to his wife, to accept the Southern Miss job and felt as though they’d be happier in Auburn. Plus, he wasn't too far away from locking in a nice pension from the state of Alabama after working previously on Alabama’s coaching staff.

“There were a lot of reasons to go to Florida State, and I knew Jimbo was on the verge of something special there,” Johnson said. “But there were some other reasons outside football that made Auburn the right choice for us, and it’s been unbelievable the way this season has unfolded.”

Johnson’s first defense at Auburn has had its moments, both good and bad. But the Tigers have consistently made key plays during crucial situations and were second in the SEC in red zone defense.

“We’re going to have to play a lot more consistently in this game,” Johnson said. “If we give up some of the cheap plays we have this season at times, we’re going to have a hard time.”


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State receiver Kenny Shaw was posing for photos while wearing “Google Glass.” Auburn players were dancing and jumping into interview shots, even joining the ESPNU crew on stage. Players from both teams took turns getting their pictures taken with the Vizio BCS National Championship trophy.

But don't be fooled -- they're ready for Monday night.

Saturday’s media event at the Newport Beach Marriott was chaotic, with every player and coach from both teams available to reporters. Florida State was the first team in the spotlight, followed by Auburn, and while the stars and head coaches for each team were seated at individual podiums, the rest of their teammates and staff members were seated around tables in a huge ballroom, swarmed by reporters with microphones and television cameras, working to preview the sport’s biggest game.

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AP Photo/David J. PhillipAll of FSU and Auburn's players faced the media throng Saturday before the BCS title game.
In spite of all of the distractions and attention this week, those within both programs agreed they are focused and ready for Monday night’s stage.

“Preparation has been great,” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. “So I feel like it's been one of the best all year. So we're doing a great job at handling our business, handling the situation, and when it's time to prepare, we have done a great job and when it's time to have fun, we're doing a great job at having fun as well. So we're definitely mature enough to handle our business and know there's a time and a place to do everything.”

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis said the Tigers have had the same approach.

“In the SEC, that's the best conference in college football,” Davis said. “And I just got to say, we're going to be well prepared for Monday. We're just ready to play our best and represent the great state of Alabama.”

For Auburn, Monday’s game is a chance to extend the SEC’s streak of national titles to eight, and give the conference 10 of the 16 BCS championships. For Florida State, which is making its first appearance in the national title game in 13 years, it’s a chance to elevate the ACC and most likely finish in the top five for the first time since the program’s historic run from 1987-2000. Saturday’s media event was a also rare opportunity for reporters to speak with Florida State assistant coaches, several of whom are former players now basking in the program’s return to the top.

Both teams have been here since Dec. 31, when they were welcomed at Disneyland. Sunday morning’s news conferences with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will be the final media availability before Monday’s 8:30 p.m. ET national title game.

For the players, it’s all business now.

“Our team has done a very good job this year of not getting distracted by anything,” Malzahn said. “This week has been no different, even though the schedule has been a little bit chaotic at times. Once we got in our meetings, once we got to the practice field, the guys have been locked in, trying to get better and focus.”

Fisher and Greene both said that the Noles haven’t played their best game yet.

“I feel very confident we're ready,” Fisher said. “I think we've practiced extremely well and I like our mindset and our attitude right now. I think we're very confident in what we do but we're not arrogant. I think our kids believe in the system, and the team we have, there's not a lot of arrogance where they're ignoring things and not preparing at the same time, and I think that's very critical.”
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The hits just keep coming for Texas, which can’t seem to find a coach to replace Mack Brown.

Well, here’s some good news: If the Longhorns hire Jimbo Fisher, they’ll get a two-for-one deal, scoring the Heisman Trophy winner, too.

The odds of that happening don’t look good, of course, especially because Fisher recently signed a new contract with Florida State. And Texas already had its chance at quarterback Jameis Winston.

“Through the whole recruiting process, I said to my coach, ‘We got to get Texas on the phone,’ ” Winston said.

Winston even tried to get Brown on the phone himself.

“I tried to call him a couple times because I really like Texas,” he said.

It’s probably better it didn’t work out. After all, Winston said he was an Oklahoma fan.

SWINGING FOR THE STARS

Who says Winston can’t play both baseball and football at the next level?

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” the two-sport star said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘No way, he’s a quarterback.’ Bo Jackson was a running back. The one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates. Even being in the NFL, if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback, I can go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees. I can’t talk about that, because I’m living in the moment right now.”

On Tuesday, he’ll be ready to talk baseball again.

“Right now I got one thing on my mind, win the national championship on Monday. Tuesday comes, I’ll be ready for it then. I’m pretty sure [Florida State baseball] coach Mike Martin, he’ll talk to me about it then. I know he’s not saying nothing about baseball to me right now.”

HAPPY RETURNS

Prior to this season, Auburn's Chris Davis had not returned any punts or kicks during his college career, but it wasn't because he didn't try.

"I'd been asking. I never got the opportunity," said Davis, who led the SEC in punt return average this season and also returned the missed field goal against Alabama 109 yards for a touchdown.

Asked what reason the previous coaching staff at Auburn gave him for not giving him a shot to return kicks, Davis said, "They didn’t have an answer for me."

Auburn's current special teams coach, Scott Fountain, was the director of player personnel on the previous staff and made it known when the new regime arrived that Davis was plenty capable as a return man. Davis had excelled as a return specialist in high school.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"I’d mention it every year. I’d go back and catch punts and kicks at the beginning of the season, but I never got the opportunity," Davis said. "I thank Coach Fountain and Coach [Gus] Malzahn for the opportunity."

NOT BACKING DOWN

Florida State's receivers, led by 6-foot-5, 234-pound sophomore Kelvin Benjamin, are big, physical and explosive.

Benjamin has 14 touchdown catches entering Monday's Vizio BCS National Championship, which presents quite a challenge for an Auburn pass defense that ranked last in the SEC this season.

But the Tigers are adamant they're not going to all of a sudden change it up.

"We’ve mixed it up, but man[-to-man coverage] is our base," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "We’re going to play man. LSU had great receivers. Georgia had good receivers. Missouri’s got bigger receivers than Florida State’s got. We’ve seen all types. We’ve seen some of the best. At all times, we haven’t stopped them, but you can’t just give up on something.

"I think a lot of people have been intimidated out of man coverage against them early in the game because they can’t score on them. If we score on them and hold the ball on them a little bit, we’ll have a chance to be more aggressive. If we don’t, we’re going to have a hard time."

GETTING DRAFTY

Florida State junior running back Devonta Freeman said he turned his papers into the NFL draft evaluation board but hasn’t heard back from it yet. Freeman said when he does, he will talk to Fisher about possibly entering the draft.

Malzahn named AP coach of the year

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Auburn is headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and Gus Malzahn can add another accolade to his resume. On Monday, the Tigers' first-year coach was named the AP national coach of the year after orchestrating one of the greatest turnarounds in college football.

“It’s very humbling,” he told the AP Monday. “Any time you get awards like this, it’s a team thing, as far as our staff and our players. It’s been fun to be a part of this year.”

Malzahn took over an Auburn team that finished 3-9 in 2012 and failed to win a conference game for the first time since 1980. In his first season, the Tigers went 12-1, won the SEC championship and will play Florida State for the national championship. Only Hawaii’s 8.5-game turnaround from 1999-2000 matches Auburn’s one-year improvement.

Malzahn received 33 of the votes, edging Duke’s David Cutcliffe (17 votes) for the honor. Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to their first-ever 10-win season. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio each received three votes.

Malzahn becomes the second Auburn coach to win the award. Tommy Tuberville was named the AP coach of the year in 2004 after leading the Tigers to an undefeated season. It’s the fifth time an SEC coach has won the award, which was created in 1998.

Ranking Nick Saban's coaching tree

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Nick Saban's name is sure to come up in every high-profile coaching job that opens until he decides to retire.

That's just the nature of the business when you've had the kind of success Saban has had with four national championships in the last 11 years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama coach Nick Saban has several protégés who are now head coaches, including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Florida's Will Muschamp and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.
He won't be playing for a national title this season, but one of his protégés will -- Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.

In fact, it's been an eventful season all the way around for the Saban coaching tree.

Since we're all into power rankings this time of year, let's roll out the power rankings for the Saban coaching tree coming out of this season. In other words, those guys who have coached under Saban at some point in the college ranks and have gone on to be head coaches either in major college football or the NFL.

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State head coach: We'll go with Fisher at No. 1 on this list since he has the No. 1 Seminoles unbeaten and headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game to face Auburn. It's their first trip to the national title game since the 2000 season. Fisher is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. His Seminoles have been dominant this season. They've won all 13 of their games by 14 or more points and 12 of their 13 games by 27 or more points. Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State head coach: Another finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, Dantonio has Michigan State in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season and led the Spartans to a school-record 12 wins this season. This will be their seventh straight bowl appearance. Dantonio was Saban's secondary coach at Michigan State from 1995-99.

3. Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach: In his second season at Colorado State, McElwain has the Rams in a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season. They will face Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. McElwain was a part of two national championship teams at Alabama under Saban as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008-11.

4. Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator: Now in his first season with the Eagles, Shurmur was the Cleveland Browns head coach from 2011-12. He coached under Saban at Michigan State from 1995-97 as the Spartans' tight ends coach.

5. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator: This is McDaniels' second season as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. He was the Denver Broncos' head coach from 2009-10 and was a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1999.

6. Will Muschamp, Florida head coach: After a breakthrough second season at Florida and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp's Gators suffered through a dismal 4-8 season this year that was marred by a litany of injuries. It was Florida's first losing season since 1979. The Gators lost their last seven games, including a home loss to Georgia Southern. It goes without saying that Year No. 4 will be a critical one for Muschamp, whose Gators have struggled on offense. Muschamp coached under Saban at LSU as the linebackers coach in 2001 and defensive coordinator from 2002-04. He was also Saban's assistant head coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2005.

7. Derek Dooley, Dallas Cowboys receivers coach: Now in his first season with the Cowboys, Dooley was the head coach at Tennessee from 2010-12. The Vols suffered through losing seasons all three years and managed just five SEC wins, leading to Dooley's firing. Dooley was the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years prior to his stint at Tennessee. He coached under Saban at LSU from 2000-04 as tight ends coach and then running backs coach. From there, he went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins and coached tight ends before getting the Louisiana Tech head job in 2007.

Fisher, Muschamp take diverging paths

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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.

3-point stance: UCLA's growing pains

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1. UCLA started eight true freshmen against Oregon, including three on the offensive line, and played 18 overall against the Ducks. If you are looking for a reason that Oregon scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, it might be physical (how long can 19-year-olds play guys two or three years older?) and it might be mental (close game, big stakes, who’s been there before?). Either way, the Bruins will get a dividend on this investment in, oh, 2015.

2. If you congratulate No. 3 Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher for voting his conscience on his USA Today ballot -- he sounded as if he voted Alabama No. 1 -- and if you applaud him for sitting his starters in the second half against North Carolina State after leading 42-0 at halftime, you may as well congratulate him for getting his team on the field for the opening kickoff. That’s how a coach should act. As the saying goes, Fisher is acting as if he has been there before. Which he has, as an assistant under Nick Saban.

3. Kentucky is 1-6, 0-4 in the SEC, and Wildcats first-year head coach Mark Stoops is trying to remain patient. Only the 48-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama could be considered a blowout. “I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time,” Stoops said at his press conference Monday, “but that’s not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC. You’ve got to be good top to bottom, and you’ve got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you’re under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.”
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Miami and Florida once played an annual rivalry game, one that has only appeared intermittently over the past few years.

The meeting between the two schools set for Sept. 7 could be the last one for a good, long while. Miami athletic director Blake James said during the ACC spring meetings that he has not had any discussions with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley about extending the series.

"This is a game that’s been on the schedule and we’re thrilled to be hosting them in South Florida," James said. "With that said, I haven’t spoken with Jeremy or the University of Florida about future games and I don’t know how it would fit into their schedule or fit into ours right now. There hasn’t been any conversation and there isn’t anything on the schedule for the future."

That really is too bad, although not unexpected. The two schools previously met annually between 1938-87 but have played only five times since then. Two were in bowl games. Their meeting this season will complete just their second home-and-home series since 1987. Essentially, Florida's nonconference scheduling logistics have hurt this rivalry game.

The Gators already have Florida State as an annual nonconference game, and Foley prefers to fill the other open nonconference slots with home games. Florida rarely plays a nonconference game away from home, much less out of state. Indeed, of the future Florida opponents already announced, the only nonconference road game is in Tallahassee.

Miami, meanwhile, already has future nonconference home-and-home games set with Nebraska, Rutgers and Michigan State and also plays at Notre Dame as part of the three-year league rotation in 2016.

Looking into the future, there also remains the possibility that the SEC will move to a nine-game league schedule. If that happens, well the chances of Miami and Florida playing again in the regular season are reduced even further. Especially with Florida-Florida State a mainstay. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher remained confident nothing would happen to the Florida-Florida State game if the SEC adds another conference contest.

"I doubt that game will ever be affected because I think one of the criteria for getting in the final four is strength of schedule, which is why we’re changing our schedule," Fisher said. "Whether they have nine or we have eight only enhances that ability and it makes the results of that game even greater."
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.
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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?
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was only last week that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lamented the use of computers to help determine the BCS standings and argued his squad's case as one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

With five turnovers in a wild 37-26 loss to rival Florida on Saturday, the Seminoles’ case against the computers was officially deleted.

It’s not that No. 10 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) shouldn’t be ranked -- it absolutely should -- but the Seminoles proved Saturday that the fourth-ranked Gators (11-1, 7-1 SEC) deserve their spot ahead of FSU, and the program is still not consistent enough to be considered a true national title contender. Florida State’s mistake-laden four quarters were a microcosm of the Seminoles’ entire regular season: an opportunity at something bigger fumbled away.

“There were ample opportunities -- ample opportunities,” Fisher said. “We just didn’t capitalize on them.”

He was talking about the game -- not the season.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kevin Liles/US PresswireMike Gillislee's 140 yards (including this 37-yard TD) led Florida's 244-yard assault on the Noles.
Those within Florida State’s locker room after the loss emphasized the team's “24-hour rule,” reminding each other there is still plenty to play for, as the Atlantic Division champs are heading to Charlotte, N.C., to play Georgia Tech in the Dec. 1 Dr Pepper ACC championship game. The Seminoles still have a chance to win the Discover Orange Bowl. The possibility of a 12-2 season is still within reach. It’s going to be hard, though, for some of the players -- and most all of the Noles’ fans -- not to wonder what could have been this season had FSU not lost on the road to NC State and found a way to beat its rivals at home. The Noles were so close to finally meeting preseason expectations, yet so far away.

“That’s just something that’s going to be in the back of your head forever,” defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. “But we can’t worry about that right now. We just have to keep on moving.”

Just like Florida’s running game.

The Gators controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball with ease, racking up 244 yards on the ground. Florida’s success on the ground made quarterback Jeff Driskel look better than usual, as it opened up the play-action and allowed him not to have to execute a true drop-back game. By the fourth quarter, the Gators had scored 24 points in a span of less than nine minutes and Florida State’s usually staunch defense looked gassed.

“We weren’t able to execute,” said Noles receiver Rashad Greene. “That basically sums it all up on one piece right there.”

In what was only its second game of the season against a ranked opponent, Florida State’s mistakes were too much to overcome. It wasn’t the first time this season turnovers plagued the Noles (two against Miami, two against Virginia Tech), but against better competition, FSU couldn’t get away with it.

“We’ve got to have them better prepared and we have to take care of the ball better,” Fisher said. “It was rare -- it wasn’t fumbles, it was interceptions. Something we haven’t done very much.”

It was also an emotional and difficult game for Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball, leading to a Florida touchdown.

“It was not one of his most stellar performances,” Fisher said.

Manuel agreed.

“I’ve got to get better these next two games,” he said. “It was tough. This is hard right now.”

While Florida State tries to refocus on the ACC championship game, the Gators left Doak Campbell Stadium believing they should be playing for the national title.

The Seminoles did their part to help the Gators build their résumé.

“We didn’t finish,” Fisher said, “we didn’t finish.”

It was only the second time this season that happened to FSU, but that’s two times too many for a team playing for more.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Here's a quick look back at No. 4 Florida's 37-26 victory over No. 10 Florida State on Saturday in Doak S. Campbell Stadium:

It was over when: With seven minutes left in the game, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar to put the Gators ahead 30-20. In five plays, the Gators went 32 yards to score -- a short field that was set up by Marcus Roberson's 50-yard punt return. It was a huge special-teams play that put Florida in position to separate itself and gave the Gators the momentum.

Game ball goes to: Florida's defense. It lived up to the billing, as the Gators forced five turnovers, and held Florida State to just 112 rushing yards and well under its season average of 42.91 points per game.

Stat of the game: Florida State turned the ball over five times -- two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Overall, Florida scored 10 points off FSU's turnovers. EJ Manuel's fumble in the fourth quarter led to an immediate score for running back Mike Gillislee, a 37-yard run that put the Gators up 23-20.

What it means: Florida still has an outside shot at playing for the national championship and further stated its case for a BCS bowl. It also snapped a two-game losing streak to coach Jimbo Fisher. For Florida State, it was a squandered opportunity to prove it deserves to be higher in the BCS standings and make an argument against the computers. It also was another letdown for the ACC on a national stage.

Greetings from Tally

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
2:51
PM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The FSU and Florida tailgating tents have long been lined up along Tennessee Street, the students have begun to pack into their seats, and it's a beautiful day here at Doak Campbell Stadium for this revived rivalry game. This is the first time in 12 years that both teams are ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, and the atmosphere around the stadium reflects that. If you're looking for a comparison, though, there seemed to be more pregame excitement here for the September game against Clemson, and last year's game against Oklahoma.

This game is big, no doubt, but the truth is, it's bigger for Florida.

More is on the line for Florida, as the Gators still have a legitimate (though outside) shot of sneaking into the national title game. FSU, meanwhile, is playing for in-state bragging rights and to prove the computers wrong once and for all. Even if the Noles win today, though, their loss against NC State will continue to haunt them in the national picture. That's not to say a win today wouldn't be important or meaningful for the program.

If FSU wins today, it would be the first time since 1998-2000 that the program would have won three straight in the series against the Gators. The Noles have won the past two meetings by a margin of victory of 52-14. The last time they played here in Tallahassee, FSU won, 31-7, in Jimbo Fisher's first season. Fisher is 5-0 against both rivals Florida and Miami, but you'd never know it by looking at the current BCS standings.

If nothing else, the Noles have a chance to put the Gators in their place -- behind FSU in the BCS standings. That in itself would be a victory to those within the FSU program and their fans.

 

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