3:30 PM ET, November 29, 2008
Doak Campbell Stadium, TALLAHASSEE, FL
It may not have guaranteed him the Heisman Trophy, but Tim Tebow's outstanding performance against Florida State last season certainly didn't hurt, as two weeks later he became the first sophomore to win the prestigious award.
For Florida's star quarterback, though, this season's intrastate showdown carries much higher stakes.
The second-ranked Gators have wrapped up the SEC East but are playing to stay in the hunt for the BCS championship Saturday in Tallahassee, as they'll look to make it five straight wins over the No. 23 Seminoles, who need help to make the ACC title game.
Tebow was a situational sensation as a freshman on Florida's national championship team in 2006, playing in packages that utilized his running skills while occasionally allowing him to show off his arm. He did plenty of both last season, throwing for 32 touchdowns and running for 23 more while becoming the third Gators quarterback to win college football's highest individual honor.
In his last game before claiming the Heisman, Tebow put on a show in Florida's 45-12 thrashing of Florida State, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns while running for two more scores -- even playing the second half with a broken right hand.
"The thing about him that I always thought was very unique is that he always seemed to have that 'it' factor," Seminoles offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. "There have been some guys that are maybe as tough, but you don't see it because they don't run that style of offense."
Heading into the 2007 regular-season finale, the Gators had lost three times, leaving the rivalry game with Florida State as more of a personal showcase for Tebow.
That's not the case in 2008, as Florida (10-1) is in prime position to play for the national championship with a win over the Seminoles (8-3) and a victory against top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game Dec. 6.
The Gators are fourth in the BCS standings behind the Crimson Tide, Texas and Oklahoma, but will almost certainly jump into the top two by beating Florida State and Alabama.
While Florida knows it'll be in Atlanta next Saturday, the Seminoles still have a chance to play for the ACC title earlier that day in Tampa Bay. If visiting Maryland beats Boston College in a game set to kick off the same time Florida State and Florida get under way, the Seminoles will win the Atlantic Division.
But with a rivalry that's been rather one-sided recently -- the Gators have won the last four by an average of 18.5 points -- Florida State isn't about to be preoccupied with what's happening in Massachusetts. Considering Tebow has 22 touchdown passes and just two interceptions -- and Florida is No. 1 nationally in turnover margin (plus-18) -- that's more than enough to get Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews' attention.
"If you had your druthers you'd probably rather be on a creek bank or somewhere than try and defend a team as talented as they are," Andrews said. "It'll take our best effort of the year to even have a chance."
The Seminoles may have turned in their best performance of the season last Saturday at Maryland, scoring twice in the game's first five minutes. They forced four turnovers and Christian Ponder went 19-for-24 for 143 yards and a touchdown in a 37-3 win.
"It was big because teams come out and go up 10-0 on us all the time," said receiver Preston Parker, who caught Ponder's touchdown pass. "But once we're ahead and we get the edge, it gives us more energy to go out there and just keep putting points on the board."
The Seminoles will need to get off to another strong start to have a chance against Florida. The Gators score 46.5 points per game -- third-best in the country -- and they've averaged 63.0 in their last two victories.
Florida piled up 705 yards of offense -- including 100-yard rushing efforts from Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody -- in a 70-19 rout of Football Championship Subdivision member The Citadel last Saturday.
All-purpose threat Percy Harvin had 125 combined rushing and receiving yards, and it was Harvin, along with Tebow, who torched Florida State's defense last season. Harvin had five catches for 67 yards and 16 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.
"He is one of the top two or three players in the nation," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "There are things that I've seen him do that I've never seen anyone else do."
Florida State should be better equipped to at least slow down Harvin and the Gators this time. The Seminoles' defense was 37th in the nation last season, allowing 350.4 yards per game, but this year it's seventh, yielding just 272.6.
Florida is ninth in the country in total defense (278.7) and third in scoring defense (12.0). The unit is a bit banged-up, though. Defensive lineman Matt Patchan is out and starting tackle Lawrence Marsh is questionable with both dealing with knee injuries.
Florida State has averaged 11.5 points in its last four games against the Gators, who lead the all-time series 31-19-2.
Top 25 Overview
Before Florida takes on Alabama in the SEC title game, the Gators take on Florida State. The Seminoles will be trying to reach their own conference title game, but will need a Boston College loss to get there. The Gators lead the all-time series 31-19-2, having won the past four meetings.
Florida simply has too many weapons
|Avg Points Allowed||12.3||20.8|