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Finally, the game // FSU-Florida: Let the gamesmanship begin

If it had been a contest in math, science or philosophy, Vanderbilt would have stood a better chance. But the subject was football.

In that, University of Florida pupils tend to routinely outsmart the Commodores, not to mention outhit, outrun, outscore and outrank.

Even with Saturday's mental lapses, physical misfires and semifuzzy focus by the Gators, a 41-point favorite before an all-but-yawning Florida Field crowd of 85,248, it nonetheless became a 38-7 walkover against Vandy.

On to The Big One.

Next weekend, Gainesville will explode with energy. Ticket scalpers are salivating. Stadium seats in The Swamp will be filled by screaming, eye-popping, drooling, glory-hungry footballholics. Eardrums will quiver from the game-day decibels. It'll be coronary city.

November Armageddon.

Goodbye Vandy, hello FSU.

But the third-ranked Gators, having just slammed the 'Dores to go 10-0-0 for the first time in 90 years of Florida football, were slow to pontificate about any raging emotions for Saturday's shot at a Florida State team that has consistently tormented them.

"This time, we've got to play a full 60 minutes against FSU," said offensive guard Donnie Young, alluding to the Gators blowing a 28-point lead in last year's 31-31 game against the Seminoles.

Ah, the cliches.

"It'll be the biggest FSU game we've played," Florida coach Steve Spurrier said, "because of the position we're in." He means being positioned No. 3 in the polls, with a possibility that an upcoming UF sweep of FSU, Arkansas (in the SEC Championship Game) and Nebraska (in the Fiesta Bowl) could escalate Steve's pupils to No. 1.

Even so, Spurrier would add, "Our biggest game is always the one for the SEC championship." Maybe so. But what do you think? Does it make Stevie's competitive juices boil to be getting another loudly trumpeted shot at FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who is 4-1-1 against the Florida coach?

Is the pope a Notre Dame fan?

"Always, your next game is the biggest," said 298-pound senior offensive tackle Jason Odom. "Next Saturday will be big for me in many ways. It's my last game in The Swamp. Also, we've never beaten FSU in my Gator years. But you can't let that eat you up. Emmitt Smith never beat FSU during his Gator seasons. He's done okay."

Working at anti-inflation.

But you know it dominates their minds. Players, coaches, along with hundreds of thousands of other people from Key West to Pensacola.

Even so, the post-Vandy tone was unquestionably muted. Probably by Spurrier design. Gators were working at not overemphasizing Florida-FSU. Not wishing to provide flammable bulletin-board ammo for the enemy Tallahassee camp.

No matter.

Between the public and the media, even if FSU and Florida coaches and players opt to play it quiet, the next six days will be crammed with bombastic scene-setting and outrageous hype for the next football examination scheduled for a whopper of a classroom that we know as Florida Field or The Swamp.

Just before leaving Saturday's post-game quarters where husky Gators were changing from muddy football gear to casual schoolboy civvies, I stopped at one last locker.

Park your lantern, Diogenes.

There, in the exuberant voice of junior linebacker James Bates, came a passion that I would think, if everybody was being totally open and honest, would be the predominant emotion for The Big One.

"What we'll have," Bates said, "will be two teams that really hate each other and have lofty goals." Now that's more like it. I'm not much for the hate stuff, but I'm assuming this fellow from Tennessee meant it in the most sporting of ways.

"I didn't grow up around Florida-FSU games like most of the other players involved," said Bates, who is from Dolly Parton's hometown of Sevierville, Tenn. "But when you become a Gator, you're told that you're supposed to hate FSU. It's come easy for me. I really don't like those guys."

No player on the UF roster has ever played in a victory over Florida State, which has a 3-0-1 run against the Gators since 1992.

"There is so much to motivate us," Bates said. "What it comes down to is that we have a main goal, to win the national championship. FSU is in the way of that goal. That's what makes this one really big."

You got it right, James.

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