Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Colleges

Florida State knows Gators still have some bite

GAINESVILLE

One is playing to remain on track to win it all. The other has lost nearly everything. One is led by a Heisman Trophy candidate; the other by its third-team quarterback.

One, Florida State, is undefeated and one week away from playing for a conference championship and a potential national title. The other, Florida, has just four wins and is simply playing for pride — no championship, not even a bowl game.

In a tale of two programs going in opposite directions, No. 2 Florida State plays at unranked Florida this afternoon and the Gators are hoping for a monumental upset that would derail the Seminoles' national title hopes.

For Florida, this is the season.

"It definitely can swing confidence for the future, spring ball and going into next year," senior safety Jaylen Watkins said. "It would

change the feeling around here by getting a 'W.' "

"It's our bowl game," senior right guard Jon Halapio said. "We have a chance to go out there and resolve our whole season playing against the No. 2 team in the nation. And they're a very good team. With everything (bad) we've had this year, I feel like a win against this group of guys would uplift our spirits as a football program."

And perhaps ease the growing pressure on Gators coach Will Muschamp and his embattled staff.

The Seminoles are a 27½-point favorite, but the Gators know firsthand that upsets do happen. Most recently in 2004, fired coach Ron Zook's unranked Gators defeated No. 10 FSU 20-13.

Which is why the Seminoles recognize that desperation — mixed with a fierce rivalry — could potentially make the Gators dangerous.

"Whatever the Gators had done in the past few games, it doesn't matter," FSU quarterback Jameis Winston said. "When you put Florida State and Florida together … it's more of a pride game.

"We have everything to lose, but they don't have anything to lose."

Florida is on a six-game losing streak and will miss out on a bowl in a season when the Gators aren't facing NCAA sanctions for the first time since 1979. Yet the Gators insist they believe they have a chance to win the game.

"It starts with belief," Florida senior offensive lineman Kyle Koehne said. "You have no chance unless you believe. I think if we all come together as a unit, that we can win this game."

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back in national title contention but expects this game to be more of a battle than it appears on paper.

"Florida, to me, this is one of the great rivalries in college football," Fisher said. "One of the reasons (why) you come to Florida State. Very big game, always a very difficult place to play there in Gainesville. One of the most difficult in the country. They'll be ready to play. I know they will bring their 'A' game and we'll have to bring ours. … It's a rivalry game, it's a game you love to play in on both sides and it will be a great contest."

FSU is the only undefeated team in the nation to win every game by at least 14 points and ranks in the nation's top five in both scoring offense and defense.

But Florida holds firm that the game is never played on paper, and in a fierce rivalry such as this, the old cliche of throwing out the stats and record book might actually prove correct.

"We're not really paying attention to the odds," said senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who originally signed with FSU out of high school before ultimately attending junior college. "We just want to go out there and win. I haven't even watched ESPN in a while, there is so much negativity. We just want to go out there just with equal minds on equal ground, and we feel like we can play with them."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

 
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