GAINESVILLE — Tim Tebow had barely finished his victory lap around Florida Field and made it to the locker room before his mind starting drifting toward this week's showdown with archrival Florida State.
Saturday afternoon, Tebow set the SEC record for total touchdowns with a 54-yard run. Then backup quarterback John Brantley added three touchdowns to lead the Gators to a 62-3 victory over Florida International at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Time to move on.
Bring on Florida State.
Although the Gators have won five straight over the Seminoles, players said rivalry week had already kicked in and there would be no taking them lightly.
"Since I can remember watching football, I've been watching that game," Tebow said. "When Florida State beat Florida in 1996 and we didn't think we were going to the national championship, I remember my dad made me go outside and cut the grass and rake leaves. And the whole time I was raking the leaves, I was crying because Florida State had just beat Florida.
"And that's just one example of how special this game is. For Florida State and Florida, it's not solely if you beat them it makes your season a success. But it helps put a smile on your face."
The Gators had lots of reasons to smile on Saturday.
They are 11-0 and extended their national-high win streak to 21 games. Their defense has given up just 108 points this season.
By the time Brantley entered in the third quarter, the Gators led 42-3. And shortly afterward, the fans were entertaining themselves by doing the wave.
What the Gators might have gotten most out of the game was the chance to rest their starters and complete a final tuneup for what's to come: Florida State then No. 2 Alabama for the SEC title and likely berth in the BCS national title game.
"It was real nice," junior offensive lineman Mike Pouncey said. "We had a long (run of SEC games). Then to go out there and have a game like this, where we can rest starters in the second half, was real good for our team.
"We'll be ready to go Saturday."
Things started badly for the Panthers (3-8) then got worse.
After going three-and-out on their opening possession, punter Carlos Munera was injured when he was hit by Markihe Anderson. Manera did not return, and the Panthers got the ball back because of a roughing the kicker penalty.
But on the next play, Paul McCall was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Spikes, who returned it 41 yards for the first touchdown of the game, just 1:50 into the game.
It was the fourth career interception return for the senior, all over the past two seasons.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Gators faced third and 2 from their 45. Tebow scampered then broke toward the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career.
"They were in man coverage, so once I got through that, there was just a safety," Tebow said. "I think he thought I was going out of bounds. So I came up on him, got a little stiff-arm and no one was there."
The Gators added first-half touchdown runs by Chris Rainey (22 yards) and Jeff Demps (3 yards), and Tebow connected on a 27-yard touchdown to Rainey to make it 35-3 at halftime.
The Gators opted to give Tebow one possession in the second half. And he made the most of it with an 18-yard touchdown to receiver Riley Cooper to give the Gators a 42-3 lead 1:22 in.
"Tuesday and Wednesday was when this game was won," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "You see it all the time when guys don't take their opponents seriously. I showed the team some of FIU's tape and how they played well against Rutgers (a 23-15 road loss on Sept. 19).
"I talk about the fact that you cannot discount any opponent quite often. This team is very serious about handling opponents, and I'm proud of their performance."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3389. Check her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.