Nov. 17, 1999
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) – With spring training months away and oranges now out of season, the state of
Florida can focus all its attention on another traditional staple: putting a
local school into the national title game.
College football’s champion may not ultimately be crowned until Jan. 4, but
Saturday’s game between top-ranked Florida State and No. 3 Florida will surely
go a long way in deciding who it will be.
The Seminoles (10-0), looking to go undefeated in the regular season for the
third time in their history, take to The Swamp this weekend against their
intrastate rivals with a trip to the Sugar Bowl on the line for both teams.
They will take on a Gators (9-1) squad whose lone blemish was a one-point
overtime loss to Alabama, a defeat that broke a nation-high 30-game home
winning streak – and began a stretch of unimpressive play.
Florida comes off a 20-3 win over winless South Carolina which earned it the
SEC East crown. But despite owning a five-game winning streak, the Gators are
justifiably concerned about their recent lack of execution on offense.
First, the unit was contained to zero passing yards over the final two
quarters of a 30-14 win over Georgia. Then, it was held to a combined 33 points
against conference lightweights Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
“If we put that performance out there next week, we’ll lose,” defensive
end Alex Brown said after last Saturday’s victory over the Gamecocks. “We have
to play harder and smarter.”
Primary among coach Steve Spurrier’s concerns has been inconsistent play at
quarterback. Following some erratic performances, Spurrier benched Doug Johnson
last week in an attempt to jumpstart the unit – to no avail.
After a start that saw him complete just five of his first 19 passes in the
opening quarter, Palmer finished the game 15-of-33 for 161 yards. That was
hardly the spark Spurrier was looking for.
As a result, the coach will go back to alternating between the two players,
possibly as often as every play. Such a strategy was actually effective against
the Seminoles in a 1997 Florida win.
“Possibly each quarter, possibly each half,” said Spurrier. “Maybe first
down and third down. It could be fourth down. I don’t know. We’re just getting
both of them ready, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Florida State has no such concerns. In fact, the Seminoles come off one of
their most impressive performances of the year that was highlighted by a career
day from their quarterback, Chris Weinke.
Weinke threw six touchdown passes – three of them to Peter Warrick – as
Florida State clobbered Maryland 49-10, reaching 10 victories for the 13th
straight season and completing another perfect ACC campaign.
The 27-year-old junior will look to build upon that success at The Swamp and
follow the legacy of such Seminoles players as Charlie Ward, who led their team
to victory in Gainesville’s hostile confines.
“If you don’t win that game everybody forgets about the first 10 wins,” he
said. “We saw two years ago. We felt like we had a better team going down
there and we got beat.”
In 1997, Florida State brought similar credentials to the table – a perfect
10-0 record with a chance for a national title at stake – and were upset 32-29
by the Gators.
This time, however, coach Bobby Bowden will take his chances with a veteran
team reaching its peak and a quarterback who has come into his own.
“This guy is mature, he’s getting better,” Bowden said. “Chris ain’t 17.
He ain’t looking for anybody to hug. He’s a man.”
By BRIAN OREFICE
AP MegaSports Writer