Florida State will wrap up its regular season on Saturday night as the No. 13 Seminoles head to Gainesville to take on the 12th-ranked Florida Gators. FSU has won the last two in the series and will look to win for a third straight time at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — something its never done. To break down the top-15 match-up, each member of the Noled Out staff gives his “Five Things”:
1. On Florida
Mike Ferguson: To this point in the season, Florida has been one of college football’s biggest surprises. With a win Saturday, Florida could tie its win total from the previous two years combined. The Gators don’t typically win pretty, but they’re an offense that commits to the run and all-around outstanding on defense. The fact that Florida has more to lose Saturday than FSU is something few predicted coming into the year.
Clint Eiland: Head coach Jim McElwain has exceeded all expectations with the Gators this year, clinching the SEC East and leading them to 10 wins already. The defense is the staple of the team (again) and ranked highly according to many rating systems. The issues appear on the offensive side of the ball, where starting quarterback Treon Harris has struggled mightily in McElwain’s offense. Recent close contests against Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida Atlantic have many wondering if Florida is “for real” or if its record is a catfish.
Jon Marchant: The Gators have had a resurgence of sorts though the SEC East is clearly the weakest Power 5 division. Still, Florida has a very, very good defense full of future NFL players. What’s funny is it might still be just the third best defense FSU has faced this year. The Gators offense however, is…less than stellar.
2. Players to Watch for FSU
Ferguson: For Florida State, the most important task perhaps belongs to redshirt junior quarterback Sean Maguire. Maguire won’t have to win the game for FSU on Saturday night, but he cannot afford to lose it. The Gators have struggled on offense in recent weeks as has Florida State on the road. In what most believe will be a low-scoring game, the Seminoles cannot afford to give up any easy scores.
Eiland: Running back Dalvin Cook was snubbed from multiple national awards and it’s hard to see him not coming out angry against a team he was formerly committed to. Last year against a similarly ranked Gator defense, Cook ran for 144 yards and had 28 receiving. A healthy Dalvin Cook will — and should — have all eyes on him for Saturday.
Marchant: Dalvin Cook. Florida State’s offense goes as he goes and it will need him to come up big.
3. Biggest Concern for FSU
Ferguson: Protecting the football will be the biggest concern for Florida State on Saturday. The Seminoles escaped a 4-turnover effort last season to beat Florida, but in its last loss to Florida in 2012, FSU turned the ball over five times. For Saturday’s contest to result in a victory, FSU can’t afford to squander any scoring chances or give Florida any by turning the ball over.
Eiland: No matter how talented your running back or quarterback is, a turnstile offensive line will stymie any production. Florida has a very talented (if not completely healthy) defensive line. The FSU offense will need the offensive line to have at least a decent performance if FSU wants to walk out of “The Swamp” with a victory.
Marchant: Turnovers. If FSU doesn’t turn the ball over and give Florida’s mediocre offense a short field, the Gators may not score more than 17.
4. X-Factor for FSU
Ferguson: The X-factor for this one will be field position and special teams. With two teams that have been inconsistent on offense, field position will go a long way. With the teams so evenly matched, a blocked punt, big return or special teams turnover could also play a major role in deciding the outcome of this game.
Eiland: Turnovers will be absolutely essential for both teams. Neither offense is likely to light up the scoreboard, so even one interception or fumble recovery might be enough to completely change the game.
Marchant: FSU safety Derwin James. Can the freshman stud cause a game-changing turnover? We’ll find out Saturday.
5. FSU Wins If…
Ferguson: Florida State will make it three straight over Florida if it can take care of the ball, maximize scoring opportunities and get Florida in 3rd-and-long. Too often this season, particularly on the road, the Seminoles have failed to score touchdowns in the red zone. With points expected to be at a premium, that will need to change on Saturday. Florida also isn’t a team known for having a prolific pass offense. If the Seminoles can win the early downs and force Florida’s Treon Harris to try and make plays with his arm, that would be a huge plus.
Eiland: …it can convert red zone trips into touchdowns. The offense has done a pretty abysmal job of getting into the end zone so far, often settling for field goals that let opposing teams hang around longer than they should. On the road, it’s been even worse. Just converting two red zone visits will go a long way towards securing a victory.
Marchant: If FSU protects the ball, it has a great chance to win the game. Any more than one turnover and I don’t think FSU will be able to put enough points on the board. This one should be pretty ugly.