By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The regular season finale is here. Florida State (No. 1 Coaches, No. 2 AP, No. 3 CFP) hosts the Florida Gators in search of a second straight perfect regular season. Here’s a look a the players, numbers and notes you need to know before the Seminoles and Gators kick off.
No. 3 Florida State (11-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. Florida (6-4, 4-4 SEC)
(Note: We’re using the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings since they will decide the matchups that determine the national championship.)
When/Where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300)
TV/Radio: ESPN/Seminoles IMG Radio Network (103.1 FM in Tallahassee)
Coach: Will Muschamp (28-20 in four years at UF)
Last game: Florida gave its seniors and coach Will Muschamp a win in their last home game with a 52-3 victory over Eastern Kentucky. Quarterback Jeff Driskel completed 9 of 11 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns after starter Treon Harris left with a bruised knee.
Last game vs. Florida State: Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin had the finest game of his career, going off for 212 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-7 victory on Nov. 30, 2013, in Gainesville. The win clinched FSU’s first perfect regular season since 1999.
Florida vs. Florida State all-time: FSU trails the series 22-34-2. The Seminoles are 11-13-1 against the Gators in Tallahassee.
Florida State vs. Florida since 1990:
1990: No. 8 FLORIDA STATE 45, No. 6 Florida 30
1991: No. 5 FLORIDA 14, No. 3 Florida State 9
1992: No. 3 FLORIDA STATE 45, No. 6 Florida 24
1993: No. 1 Florida State 33, No. 7 FLORIDA 21
1994: No. 7 FLORIDA STATE 31, No. 4 Florida 31
1995: No. 7 Florida State 23, No. 5 Florida 17 (Sugar Bowl)
1995: No. 3 FLORIDA 35, No. 6 Florida State 24
1996: No. 2 FLORIDA STATE 24, No. 1 Florida 24
1997: No. 3 Florida 52, No. 1 Florida State 20 (Sugar Bowl)
1997: No. 10 FLORIDA 32, No. 2 Florida State 29
1998: No. 5 FLORIDA STATE 23, No. 4 Florida 12
1999: No. 1 Florida State 30, No. 3 FLORIDA 23
2000: No. 3 FLORIDA STATE 30, No. 4 Florida 7
2001: No. 4 FLORIDA 37, No. 21 Florida State 13
2002: No. 23 FLORIDA STATE 23, No. 15 Florida 15
2003: No. 9 Florida State 38, No. 11 FLORIDA 34
2004: Florida 20, No. 10 FLORIDA STATE 13
2005: No. 19 FLORIDA 34, No. 24 Florida State 7
2006: No. 4 Florida 21, FLORIDA STATE 14
2007: No. 12 FLORIDA 45, Florida State 12
2008: No. 2 Florida 45, No. 23 FLORIDA STATE 15
2009: No. 1 FLORIDA 37, Florida State 10
2010: No. 21 FLORIDA STATE 31, Florida 7
2011: Florida State 21, FLORIDA 7
2012: No. 6 Florida 37, No. 10 FLORIDA STATE 26
2013: No. 2 Florida State 37, FLORIDA 7
2014: No. 3 FLORIDA STATE vs. Florida, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
One offensive and defensive player from each team who could swing the game
Receiver Demarcus Robinson is Florida’s top threat in the passing game by far. He’s caught 43 passes (no other Gator has more than 43) for 703 yards (no other Gator has more than 326) and seven touchdowns (no other Gator has more than two).
FSU freshman left tackle Roderick Johnson will be in for the biggest test of his young career when he lines up against UF defensive end Dante Fowler. Fowler, who was once verbally committed to FSU as a recruit, leads the Gators in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (11).
Technically, Jameis Winston is the player who can swing every game for Florida State. But that feels especially true this week. In a heated rivalry with the season on the line, FSU might need Winston to play like the best player in the country. He’s done it before.
FSU linebacker Terrance Smith
Florida is going to run the ball early and often. So the heat will be on FSU’s defensive line to slow down the Gators’ running backs and for the linebackers to close in and make tackles. Terrance Smith is FSU’s most experienced linebacker, and he’ll need to set the tone for the rest of his group.
Total Offense: FSU: 441.5 YPG (37th nationally); UF: 379.0 (81st)
Scoring Offense: FSU: 35.5 PPG (25th); UF 31.6 PPG (45th)
Passing Offense: FSU: 314.9 YPG (12th); UF 181.9 YPG (105th)
Rushing Offense: FSU: 126.6 YPG (104th); UF 197.1 YPG (37th)
Total Defense: FSU: 379.2 (54th); UF: 311.5 YPG (11th)
Scoring Defense: FSU: 22.3 PPG (29th); UF: 20.9 PPG (23rd)
Passing Defense: FSU: 230.4 YPG (69th); UF: 201.1 YPG (32nd)
Rushing Defense: FSU: 148.8 YPG (43rd); UF: 110.4 YPG (12th)
“I think emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins. I think emotion is going to be critical. … 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.” – FSU coach Jimbo Fisher on the emotions and intensity that come with a rivalry game.
“I kind of heart that story. I appreciate you rehashing it for me. It is what it is. That ain’t going to help us win the game, I can assure you of that.” – Florida coach Will Muschamp on comparisons between this year’s FSU-UF game and the one in 2004, when previously fired UF coach Ron Zook’s Gators upset the Seminoles in Zook’s final game at the helm.
“Yeah, we’re going to end that. Don’t worry about that.” – Florida defensive end Alex McCalister on Florida State’s 27-game winning streak.
“It’s going to be who wants it the most. You’re not going to go out there and talk about it. You have to bring your big pads. It’s a ‘big-pad’ game.” – FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. on what it will take to slow down Florida’s running game.
It’s the 20th anniversary of this game. Perhaps you remember it. Anyway, you can watch it in its entirety here, though I don’t think anyone will blame you if you skip ahead to the fourth quarter.
ESPN.com’s Jared Shanker has a fun oral history of the 20th anniversary of the “Choke at Doak.”
FSU players lift spirits of young fan, writes Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat
Freshman Cook racing up FSU record books, writes Ira Schoffel of Warchant.com
Gatorzone.com’s Scott Carter previews the game from the Florida angle with his Opening Kickoff column.
UF has hands full vs. Winston-led FSU, writes Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun
Given the way this season has played out, it would almost feel inappropriate if FSU’s final regular season game was anything other than close in the fourth quarter.
And Florida appears to have the capability to make that happen. Like Boston College, the Gators want to run the ball, shorten the game and limit possessions for Jameis Winston and the FSU offense.
The key, then, will be whether the Seminoles’ defense can slow down the Gators’ running game. FSU allowed BC to convert 8 of 14 third-down attempts. The Seminoles will want to improve on that figure come Saturday.
Florida also figures to be extra motivated to send Muschamp out as a winner in his last game. Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville was up and down, but it’s clear that he still has the affection of his players.
Still, as Fisher noted above, emotion and motivation can only go so far. Sooner or later, the game will come down to who actually makes the plays.
FSU is still the better team and, with the end of the season in sight – and a berth in the inaugural playoff closer than ever – it’s hard to imagine the Seminoles letting this one get away.