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USF crashes AP Top 25; Seminoles 12th, Gators 15th

For the first time in several weeks, three Florida teams are in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Florida and Florida State have been included every week, but now the South Florida Bulls have joined the club.

USF is the 24th ranked team in the country according to AP. With Saturday’s victory over Central Florida, the Bulls finished the season at 10-2.

The 10 wins are the most in a season in USF history and the Bulls are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since week six of the 2011 season. Their only losses came against Temple and Florida State.

The Seminoles improved from 15th to 12th this week following Saturday’s 31-13 win over the Florida Gators. Florida State was ranked as high as second this season before the huge loss to Louisville. Following their shocking loss to Kentucky, the Cardinals are now ranked behind FSU at No. 16.

Florida fell only two spots to 15th with the loss to FSU. The Gators were ranked as high as tenth earlier this season.

Florida State and South Florida have only their bowl games remaining while Florida must play top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, followed by their bowl game.

The Crimson Tide is again a unanimous selection at number one, earning all 61 first place votes. Ohio State, Clemson, Washington and Michigan round out the top five.

In addition to USF, the American Conference has Navy in the top 25, who is ranked 20th. The Bulls beat the Midshipmen on October 29, but the voters were apparently impressed by Navy scoring 75 and 66 points the past two weeks.

While Alabama is clearly the top team, the SEC is falling on hard times. The league once had eight teams in the top 25, but only four this week. LSU and Auburn are the other two.

The ACC, who argues they are equal to the SEC from top to bottom, placed five teams in the top 25. The Big 10 placed the most teams with six, followed by the Pac 12 with four, the Big 12 with three, the American with two and the Mid-American with one.

Western Michigan of the Mid-American is the only other unbeaten FBS/Division I team. The 12-0 Broncos are ranked 13th.

The four College Football Playoff teams will be selected next Sunday. Two of those four will be in Tampa on January 9 for the national championship game.

The Top 25 poll is here.

 

One more time: Dalvin Cook leads FSU past Florida in rivalry

The replay board at Doak-Campbell Stadium summed it up perfectly.

“Thank you, Dalvin.”

Behind Dalvin Cook, again, the FSU Seminoles beat the Florida Gators, again. This time, it was 30-14, and once again, Cook led the way.

In three games, Cook has rushed for 480 yards against the Gators who, presumably, are all in favor of Cook jumping to the NFL.

“You’re blessed to coach certain guys in your career,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “What a dad gum great football player.”

This time, Cook had 153 yards to lead FSU, but the Seminoles much-maligned defense made its mark, too. FSU had six sacks, gave up only 207 yards of total offense and held the Gators to zero-for-12 on third down situations. Four of FSU’s six sacks were in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know if they will come back (for next week’s SEC title game) or not,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of his Gators.  It’ll be a heck of a test.

“These guys have been through a ton. They played their tails off today, and it hurts. You know as a competitor you tear off the rear view mirror and go forward.”

The win made FSU’s senior class the first one to go 4-0 against Florida and Miami during their time with the Seminoles.

Despite Gators’ shortcomings, it’s still the FSU-Florida rivalry

Even though the Gators are missing seven defensive starters, it’s FSU-Florida.

Even though the Gators are ranked only 102nd in the nation, it’s FSU-Florida.

Even though FSU has won three straight, and five of the last six, it’s FSU-Florida.

There are a lot of reasons to believe this won’t be a close game. Despite a disappointing season, FSU has Dalvin Cook and Deondre Francois. Demarcus Walker is second in the nation in sacks. Tavaris McFadden is first in interceptions.

But Florida has had an over-achieving season, and they’re coming off an overachieving afternoon. So, yeah, it’ll probably be closer than it has a right to be. In the end, however, FSU can still score on any play. Florida can’t.

Prediction: FSU 23, Florida 16

All season long, the question has been that if someone finally stops the potent USF offense, what are the Bulls’ going to do. That sums up the hope of UCF, whose 35th-best defense will be the second-best that USF has faced all season.

SMU did a decent job with quarterback Quinton Flowers last week, but Flowers still rushed for 149 yards. UCF won’t be able to run up and down the field the way the Bulls are capable, but they can slow USF down. If they pen up Flowers, and if they can stop that pesky jet sweep, it could be a closer game than you’d think

Prediction: USF 27, UCF 20

Duke at Miami

The Hurricanes have had a solid first season under coach Mark Richt. They can get to their eighth win by beating the Blue Devils.

Miami has won three straight games. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby give the ‘Canes a solid running game, and Brad Kaaya is always dangerous.

Prediction: Miami 29, Duke 14

FIU at Old Dominion

ODU didn’t ease up against FAU last week, and they probably won’t this week against FIU. ODU is 8-3 on the season and still have a chance in the Conference USA East Division. Last week, ODU quarterback David Washington threw for 416 yards and five touchdowns.

Can FIU slow down the ODU attack? Some, but probably not enough.

Prediction: ODU 34, FIU 16

FAU-Middle Tennessee

FAU is 3-8, and will be a solid underdog against the Blue Raiders. FAU is giving up almost 500 yards per game.

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 35, FAU 10

The Pros

Jags at Bills

You keep waiting for Jacksonville to prove it’s better than its record. But is it? The Jags keep finding ways to lose, and quarterback Blake Bortles has been unable to do anything about it.

Prediction: Buffalo 27, Jacksonville 14

49ers at Dolphins

San Francisco is a mess, while Miami has quietly righted the ship and snuck back into playoff contention. The Dolphins’ defense won’t give up a lot to San Francisco, and Jay Ajayi should have a good day.

Prediction: Miami 31, San Francisco 9

Seattle at Tampa Bay

The Seahawks are playing solid football behind quarterback Russell Wilson, who has a chance at a huge day against a depleted Bucs’ secondary.

Prediction: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 14

Can Dalvin Cook find space and other questions about FSU-Florida

Five questions to ponder about the FSU-Florida game.

Can the FSU Seminoles run on the Gators?

We’ll see. So far, Florida State has played three teams – Louisville, N.C. State and Boston College – who rank higher against the run than the Gators, who are  20th in the country. But those are just numbers. When healthy, this is the toughest defense the Seminoles have played.

The thing is, Florida isn’t completely healthy. But teams seem to play harder in their rivalry games. The Gators have seven starters – five on defense – who are expected to miss the game. Still, it’s hard to dismiss the Gators. They are third in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in total defense. Except for the Arkansas game, and the second half of the Tennessee game, the Gators have been very difficult to move the ball against.

Can Florida’s Austin Appleby take advantage of a sketchy FSU defense?

That’ll be a challenge. FSU’s defense has struggled against big-name quarterbacks for most of the season, but Appleby doesn’t really compare with Lamar Jackson, Mitch Trubisky, Deshawn Watson, Brad Kaaya or Quinton Flowers. And FSU does have some weapons: Demarcus Walker is second in the nation in sacks and Tavarus McFadden is first in interceptions.

Overall, Florida ranks only 102nd in the nation on offense? That’s low enough that their season has been a surprise. For instance, Las Vegas is 101st, and it’s 4-7. Virginia is 104th, and it’s 2-9. It’s a compliment that the Gators have achieved what they have.

The two schools really aren’t that far apart in the AP top 25. Why is there a difference in the way they’re viewed?

FSU’s season has been a disappointment; they were second in the nation at one point. Florida has the look over an achiever as it heads to the SEC title game.

Most people knew that Florida’s offense would swim upstream all year with a new quarterback. But FSU had Cook and a good group of receivers. Still, you get the feelling that FSU’s best football is still to come.

Over the past few years, FSU’s receivers have struggled against Florida’s secondary. Will it be any better this year?

Florida has great cornerbacks in Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. It’s missing both of its safeties, which could play a part. In 2013, Kelvin Benjamin had a monster game against the Gators (nine catches for 212 yards), but except for that, however, FSU has struggled.

What is Florida’s best chance at a upset?

On offense, the Gators have to run Jordan Scarlett, and then run him again. With 725 yards, he’s the Gators’ most consistent performer. Defensively, Florida has to keep the score close. A timely play-action pass might figure in, too.

FSU needs to ride Cook, who is sixth in the nation in rushing, but it also needs to take advantage of its edge at quarterback in Deondre Francois.

Sunshine State Award: Surprise! FSU’s Dalvin Cook wins it again

Dalvin Cook must be getting used to the recognition.

Once again, the Sunshine State Award is his.

Cook, the FSU running back who shattered the school’s all-time record last week against Syracuse, has won this honor several times. His 225, four-touchdown performance against the Orangemen is only the latest.

Cook faces a difficult week this week against the Florida Gators in what may be his final home game for the Seminoles.

Other players considered for the honor include: FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, who threw for 315 yards, Florida defensive lineman David Reese, who had 12 tackles against LSU, Florida running back Jordan Scarlett, who ran for 108 yards, Florida receiver Tyrie Clevealnd, who had three catches for 108 yards, Miami running back Mark Walton, who ran for 120 yards against N.C. State, USF’s Quinton Flowers, who combined for 330 yards of total offense against SMU, USF running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for 129 yards, USF receiver Tyre McCants, who caught three passes for 105 yards, UCF defensive lineman Tony Guerad, who had 12 tackles against Tulsa, FAU receiver Kalib Woods, who caught seven passes for 120 yards in a loss to Old Dominion and FIU’s running back combination of Anthony Jones (121 yards rushing) and Alex Gardner (119 yards rushing).

The Sunshine State awards are presented each week by the SaintPetersblog.

Florida’s offense, FSU’s defense face challenges in rivalry game

How in the world can Florida score enough points to beat FSU?

And how in the world can FSU play enough defense to beat Florida?

It’s the old movable object-resistible force debate. The poor Gators struggled mightily on offense — this is hardly fun nor a gun. The Seminoles play chase on defense.

So how can either team win?

You have to give credit to Gators’ coach Jim McElwain, who has found a way to win eight games with the nation’s 102nd ranked offense. Florida is 97th in American in running the ball and 81st in passing yards. Eighty-eight teams have scored more points.

But Florida’s defense (ranked fifth) has given the Gators wiggle-room. So far, Florida has won games with 13 points (Vandy), 16 points (LSU) and 20 points (South Carolina). LSU, for instance, outgained the Gators by 153 yards — but Florida found a way to win.

That will be the test again Saturday as the Gators try to slow running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Deondre Francois.

FSU has played better defense lately, possibly because the quarterbacks haven’t been the challenge that LaMar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubinsky, Brad Kaaya and Quinton Flowers were. Of course, Gators’ quarterback Austin Appleby doesn’t figure to pose a pass-them-silly challenge, either.

Like always, Florida will play defense, field position and wait for a break. It’s worked so far.

FSU will push the play a little more with its weapons, but ball control will be vital.

Game time Saturday is 8 p.m.

Gators beat LSU in rescheduled game after goal-line stand

This time, the storm hit the LSU Tigers. This time, the storm arrived in the players of the Florida Gators’ defense.

The Gators, in what was supposed to have been a home game before the venue was changed due to storms in October, stopped LSU on fourth-and-goal from the one with three seconds to play.

Florida (8-2) won the SEC East title with the 16-10 victory.

“It’s no small feat to go to that championship game back-to-back,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our players, our staff and happy for the Gator fans that, you know, don’t think we’re very good, but all we do is end up back in Atlanta.

“So that’s pretty cool.”

LSU outgained Florida 423-270, but the Tigers lost two field goals and botched a punt. Then came the final series. LSU had a first-and-goal at the Florida seven, and moved to the one with 38 seconds to play. Two plays failed to gain, however.

The Gators conclude their regular season against FSU.

Five questions about the rescheduled Florida-LSU game

Five things to ponder about the Florida-LSU game:

1. With Jarrad Davis and Marcus Moye out, can the Florida defense stand up to the LSU attack?

It’ll have to. It’s hard to see Florida winning this game without a great defensive performance. You know, the kind of performance missing in the second half against Tennessee and in the Arkansas game. The Gators are third in the nation in defense, but LSU is 13th, which isn’t bad either.

2. Leonard Fournette rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns in LSU’s narrow win over the Gators last year. Is stopping him the key?

Not anymore. Fournette is still a talented running back, but these days, the Tigers depend on another face, too. Sophomore Darren Guice (881) actually has more yards rushing than Fournette (803). Florida is 12th in the nation against the run, hinting this could be a low-scoring game.

3. Florida quarterback Austin Appleby once beat out LSU’s Danny Etling when both were at Purdue. Does that give the Gators an edge?

Maybe a small one. But LSU has an offense less dependent on its quarterback than Florida’s. The Gators will go in looking to break a big play behind running back Jordan Scarlett or wide receiver Antonio Callaway, but Florida has struggled on offense all season. Building a consistent offense has been the disappointing part of Jim McElwain‘s era. The Gators are ranked only 95th in the country.

4. Is Florida afraid of the game?

LSU linebacker Arden Keys says they are. He says the Gators postponed the first game because they were injured, and now, without all their stars, they’re afraid. (Florida’s players, of course, deny this).

So is that just more trash talking? We’ll see. Florida is the underdog in this game, but are they afraid? Doubtful.

5. Who’s playing for the most?

It’s a toss-up. With a victory, the Gators win the SEC East and get to the conference title game. But LSU’s players seem to like interim coach Ed Orgeron. A victory against Florida would help him in his quest to make the job assignment permanent.

The Predictions: LSU’s running game aims at Florida’s defense

Most of the time, Florida’s defense has been excellent.

Most of the time, they’ve swarmed runners and draped receivers and put the heat on quarterbacks. Most of the time, they’ve led the way to victory.

Most of the time. But not always.

Florida’s defense was exploited in the second half of the Tennessee game, and throughout the game against Arkansas. That’s enough for questions as the Gators travel to LSU for their rescheduled game Saturday. The Gators are third nationally, and 12th against the run.

The running game, in particular, will post a challenge for Florida with Darren Guice and Leonard Fournette both closing in on 1,000-yard seasons. Guise needs 119 yards and Fournette needs 197.

Florida, again, will struggle with field position and the attempt to make big plays with the 95th-best offense in the nation.

Prediction: LSU 20, Florida 16

FSU at Syracuse

The Seminoles have all the advantages in this one against an outmanned Syracuse team that will probably be missing its best player in quarterback Eric Dungey.

FSU has played better defense lately, a streak they should continue against Syracuse’s backup quarterbacks. Between Deondre Francois, Dalvin Cook, and an emerging group of young receivers, FSU should win a comfortable game. Look for DeMarcus Ware to pad his sack totals (third in the country).

Prediction: FSU 40, Syracuse 14

Miami at N.C. State

When you’re talking about the nation’s teams that are better than their record, you might want to start with the Wolfpack, the hard-luck team of the ACC. This year, North Carolina State has lost by three points in overtime to Clemson, by four points to FSU and by seven points to Boston College.

Now comes Miami, which won last week to stop a four-game losing streak. For the Wolfpack, the key will be keeping the pass rush away from quarterback Ryan Finley. For Miami, it’s getting its offensive weapons free so quarterback Brad Kaaya, finally healthy, can be the difference.

Prediction: Miami 30, N.C. State 28.

USC at SMU

The Mustangs are a trap for the USF Bulls, who face rival UCF next week. If Quinton Flowers can be bottled up, and if SMU forces him to pitch, it could be a closer game than you’d think. Don’t forget: SMU beat Houston earlier this season.

Last week, SMU put up 55 points at East Carolina, a number that should make the shaky USF defense a bit nervous. Look out for Ke’Mon Freeman and Braeden West, who both went over 100 yards last year.

Prediction: USF 31, SMU 30

UCF at Tulsa

Few teams in the nation have had the turnaround that UCF has had this season. Still, taking on Tulsa is a tough task. Tulsa is eighth in the nation on offense.

In a year, UCF may be up for the task. Not this year, though.

Tulsa 30, UCF 17

Old Dominion at FAU

ODU is one of those schools that sounds smaller than it is. In actuality, the Monarchs have won three straight and hung up 51 on Southern Miss last week. They’re a tougher opponent than some might think.

FAU’s hope is that quarterback Jason Driskel stays hot. He’s thrown for 550 yards the last two weeks.

Prediction: Old Dominion 27, FAU 20

Marshall at FIU

The Panthers will try to catch the eye of incoming coach Butch Davis in this one, but it won’t be easy.

Quarterback Chase Litton of Marshall threw for four touchdowns last week, showing there is a little danger to the Thundering Herd despite a 3-7 record. Still, there should be a new energy to FIU. Look for quarterback Alex McGough to have a good night.

Prediction: FIU 21, Marshall 17

THE PROS

Tampa Bay at Kansas City

The Bucs won last week by taking the ball away from Chicago several times, but no one’s better at that than the Chiefs, who have won 17 of their last 19 at home. One of the league’s best secondaries awaits for quarterback Jameis Winston.

Prediction: Kansas City 24, Tampa Bay 13

Jacksonville at Detroit

In a year after Calvin Johnson left, the Lions were supposed to return to the basement. Instead, Matt Harrington has led Detroit to a share of the NFC Central lead. Jacksonville has played better that you’d think, though, and a good secondary gives the Jags a chance.

Prediction: Jacksonville 21, Detroit 20 (upset)

Miami at L.A. Rams

The Dolphins aren’t very good, but they have a defense capable of giving rookie quarterback Jared Cook a hard time in his first game. As always, Miami’s chances depend on whether it can spring running back Jay Ajayi.

Prediction: Los Angeles 20, Miami 16

 

Football flashback: Bad weather has postponed Florida-LSU before

This isn’t the first time it stormed on the FloridaLSU football game.

When the teams get together Saturday for a makeup game, it should rekindle some memories for former Gators’ head coach Steve Spurrier. After all, Spurrier has been through it before.

It was 1964, and Spurrier was a sophomore when Hurricane Hilda went through Baton Rouge. That year, there was no change of venue; the teams simply played the game on Dec. 5.

LSU was ranked No. 7 in the nation going into the game, and therefore was a heavy favorite over a Florida team that had lost three times. But Spurrier led the Gators to a 20-6 victory. LSU still went on the win the Orange Bowl, while Florida stayed home.

This year, LSU is ranked No. 16. Florida is No. 21.

And Spurrier? He’s now a consultant for the Gator football team.

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