I hate FSU. No team gets me angrier, faster than FSU. However, it’s worth a look at where they are while stifling that as best I can. Here goes…
Before the season began, I made a prediction that FSU would be a six-win team in 2008. I caught a lot of flak for saying that from some of the Bleacher Report commentariat who did not read the article, but I clarified at the beginning that I was talking about wins over I-A competition.
The Seminoles are sitting at 8-3 right now, with two wins over I-AA schools at the beginning of the year back when they were trying to get around the full brunt of suspensions from last year’s academic scandal. In other words they have six wins over I-A competition, exactly where I saw them being. Since I expect to see a Gator win on Saturday, I think they’ll finish the regular season that way.
I didn’t get all the details of it right, though the end outcome was spot-on. For one thing, Christian Ponder has been a lot better than I thought he would be. On top of that, his mobility has helped FSU have a credible running game for the first time in years.
Some of that credit should go to offensive line coach Rick Trickett, since FSU’s offensive line is entirely freshmen and sophomores. Some should go to Jimbo Fisher for creating an offensive framework for success in the ACC. It’s a bit early yet to say it’s definitive proof that he’s the best guy to follow Bobby Bowden as head coach. It only proves that he’s a better offensive coordinator than Jeff Bowden was, and I don’t think that was ever in doubt.
Statistically, the Seminole defense has also been better than it was during the past two seasons’ 7-6 records. The strength of that defense has often been cited as the key for FSU having a chance to pull the upset win on Saturday.
However, we’ve heard this before. We heard how LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina all were going to slow Florida down with their tough defenses, and they all didn’t turn out to be that great at stopping the Gators. I’ll pull out the chart I made before the South Carolina game, updated to be current and including FSU both with and without its wins over I-AA teams included:
|Team||Yds/Game||Points/Game||Yds/Game net UF||Pts/Game net UF|
|FSU, net I-AA||295.44||21.89||???||???|
As you can see, FSU’s defense suddenly isn’t quite as fearsome when you remove their demolishing of not just two I-AA teams, but two bad I-AA teams. It really is similar to the SEC defenses that Florida has been shredding ever since the Ole Miss loss. I’ve seen where some FSU fans have tried to make the case that FSU’s defense has more speed than any other the Gators have faced, but I’d love to see them tell that to Rennie Curran’s face. It’d be awesome.
In short, no, FSU’s defense is not materially dissimilar to any of the others that Florida has faced. The biggest difference is that it has a Rhodes Scholar on it, but nothing else stands out.
The Gators, meanwhile, play a little defense themselves. Here is a handy comparison of the two teams’ defenses with the results of playing I-AA teams removed.
|Team||Total Defense||Scoring Defense|
|Florida, net I-AA||274.9||11.3|
|FSU, net I-AA||295.44||21.89|
Florida is a full 10 points a game better and about 20 yards a game better. The first string defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since the LSU game back on October 11. The defensive line could be a little thin with starting DT Lawrence Marsh nursing a sprained MCL and backup DL Matt Patchan out, but the overall unit is very, very good.
If it sounds to you like I’m trying to make the case for another massive blowout, I’m actually not. For whatever reason, Florida never plays that well in Tallahassee. Steve Spurrier never won there, and even with FSU’s downturn this decade the best Florida has been able to do there is a win by seven. Under Urban Meyer, two nine-win Florida teams have won the games in Gainesville by scores of 34-7 and 45-12; in Tallahassee with an eventual 13-game, national title winner the score was 21-14.
I’m not closing the door on the possibility of a large win, as Florida has surprised me in just about every game since the Ole Miss loss in its ability to win and win big. The fact still remains that UF hasn’t won in Tallahassee by double digits since a 10-point win in 1984, and you have to go back to 1972 to find a Florida win there by more than 10 points.
I think Florida has an excellent chance to score its first win by more than 10 points since the final year of Richard Nixon’s first term because of they are focused on the task at hand. They are not looking ahead to Alabama, and they will be ready for this game.
That is important because I don’t think FSU can beat Florida outright. The Seminoles will need help from the visitors in the form of turnovers or busted coverage on defense as Ole Miss received. If Florida comes out sharp, they will win going away.
I still don’t fully trust them, or any other Gator team for that matter, to absolutely win in a blowout in Tallahassee because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. However the Gators have delivered Les Miles, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier their worst losses ever all in this season, a fact I never would have believed before the year began. If there ever was a year to break a trend, this is it.