There likely weren’t many experts predicting Florida would be a trap game on the Florida State schedule in August.
The Gators started this season ranked 10th in The Associated Press and coaches polls, and the Seminoles started one spot behind them. A year after both schools made BCS appearances and finished with 12 wins, it sure looked as though football was back near full strength in the state of Florida.
A lot has changed since then. The Gators started 4-1 before going on a six-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Seminoles started hot on the road against Pittsburgh and have been climbing the polls ever since. They currently reside second in the BCS standings behind Alabama and are in line to play for a national title.
On Saturday, Florida (4-7) hosts Florida State (11-0). And despite the records, the Gators couldn’t be more dangerous.
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“They are that team,” senior linebacker Telvin Smith said. “So we’re going to go over there and give them our best, and [we know] they’re going to give us their best game. They could lose every game, but when they play us they’re going to play their best game against us.”
Florida State has scored 27 touchdowns in its past three games while Florida has only scored 26 all season, and the 80 points the Seminoles put up this past Saturday were more than the Gators have scored collectively in any month this season.
But when these two teams collide none of that matters. And the Gators are not all the Seminoles are contending with right now.
The sexual assault allegation against FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has surrounded the program for nearly two weeks.
And that makes coach Jimbo Fisher’s job that much more difficult. He has to focus his team — a task that is not easy on its own — and try to make sure that the extra media scrutiny doesn’t get the players’ minds off preparing for each week’s opponent.
“The football field is a sanctuary,” Winston said. “It’s like that for all of us. When we’re out there on that field, everything else is zoned out and we’re focused on getting a victory.”
But this past Saturday — despite setting a school record for points in a single game — Fisher could see that focus straining at times.
“I saw that before the game a little bit, just not focused like I thought we would be,” Fisher said. “I’m being picky. I’m being really picky — I really am — but that’s the standard we want to be held up to.”
Over the weekend, State Attorney Willie Meggs indicated that there would be no decision before Thanksgiving in the Winston investigation, which means the entire saga is bound to drag on for at least one more week.
And off in the distance — likely hoping to be overlooked — the Gators are waiting.
Florida’s down year culminated in an embarrassing 26-20 loss to FCS Georgia Southern at The Swamp this past Saturday. But there’s still plenty of talent on the roster and if the Seminoles look ahead to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game or a potential BCS Natioinal Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., shattering those dreams would go a little way toward redeeming the Gators’ lost season.
Then again, none of that may matter if the Gators have the Seminoles’ undivided attention this week.
“They are going to come out and play us hard. Probably harder than any other team that we play,” junior defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. “Last year they were kind of up and down a lot throughout the season but they came here and beat us so we definitely remember that.”