Ignore all the talk. Don't get caught up in all the ideas of motivation or focus. When predicting a game, the elements to focus on are coaching and talent. How much talent does each team have? What has each school done to develop that talent? How does each team use their talent. And will that talent be on the field (injuries). Then and only then should you start to think about strategy, weather conditions, and reasons why one team might be more motivated than the other.
TV: 3:30, CBS
Line: UF -24.5 (95% chance of winning)
I wasn't sure how to write this preview. Because I do not think Florida State has a realistic chance to win. Of the 50 BCS conference teams playing this weekend, Florida State is the largest underdog. Florida is expected to beat FSU by more than double what Alabama is projected to eclipse Auburn by. But the 'Noles do have a chance to win-- about 5%. Let's get into why their chance is so low.
Start with talent. Florida's coaches have done a great job recruiting. Their head coach would never blow off an in-home visit in favor of a paid speaking engagement. Florida has outrecruited FSU over the last four years, particularly in the disastrous FSU recruiting classes of 2006 and 2007. The talent gap between UF and FSU is larger than the talent gap between FSU and UCF. Ouch. That gap will close once Florida State has 11 of 11 coaches recruiting, instead of the 5 that currently pound the pavement in pursuit of the state's top talent.
Florida also has a lot better coaching. Florida has a head coach who is involved with their players. Florida State's head coach appears to have dementia. Florida State has at least 4 lame duck coaches, and maybe as many as 6. Florida's coaches are leaving to take promotions at other big time programs. Almost half of the 'Nole's staff will be let go for ineffectiveness. None have been rumored to be in contention for jobs at a similar quality program.
So UF has a big advantage in coaching and talent. Keep that in mind as we talk specifics.
Florida State's Defense v. UF's Offense
This is a huge advantage to UF. While the media seems to be focusing on the fact that UF's offense is down from a year, ago, they are failing to recognize that it is still one of the best 20 offensive attacks in the country. Florida's offense rates 18th. They are the 2nd best rushing offense in the country, behind only Georgia Tech. People often talk about how UF's offense is high-flying. It's really not. UF is an option team that operates from the shotgun. They are 90's Nebraska, aligned a few yards deeper in the backfield. And their offense is better than any offense Florida State has had this decade- except for FSU's attack this year. Florida is not a passing team. It's rare for Florida to throw more than 20 passes in a game.
But FSU's defense has faced some other offenses in the top 20. Georgia Tech, Miami, BYU, and NC State are all as good as Florida's offense. And they posted insane performance against Florida State's beleaguered defense. Miami gained 7.4 yards per play, BYU 8.9, Georgia Tech 8.5, and NC State 7.8 In a standard game of 70 plays, those per-snap figures come out to 518 yards (Miami), 623 yards (BYU), 595 yards (GTech) and 546 yards (NC State). Florid State has avoided disaster twice this season, but both of those performances came against inept offenses and considering the quality of Florida's offense, to expect UF to gain anything less than 7.5 yards per play is foolish. That's a projection of 525 yards allowed.
Making matters worse, Florida's offense was designed to combat the aggressive 8-man defenses run by legendary Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and others. Andrews has absolutely no clue how to stop this attack, and even if he did, his defensive staff is not good enough to teach the defensive players how to stop UF's attack. Florida's base plays should be extremely effective against Florida State. This is particularly true because UF's tackles have not been great this year. Some teams have exploited that weakness, but Florida State cannot as their edge players have the worst defensive ends coach in the country. When an opponent's relative weakness turns into a strength because your own opposing weakness is far greater, you have a problem. You have to effectively mix zone and man against Florida. Florida State cannot do that.
Florida has cracked 7 yards per play 3 times this year against D1 opponents. They did it against 3 of the worst 4 defenses the played: Kentucky, Troy, and Florida International. Florida State's defense is certainly, worse than Kentucky, but it is a bit better than Troy or Florida International. As a 'Nole fan, it pains me to type that. Oh, and FSU's defense starts 6 senior and is tremendously healthy. There is no youth or health experience for this group.
Here's where the mental factors come into play. Florida basically had a bye week last weekend, playing Florida International. They will be fresh, but they could be distracted because it is senior day or because they play Alabama next week. Also, will UF pull their starters? If so, how soon? Florida should get 7.5 yards per play. How many points they score depends on their offense, defense, special teams, and how many plays they get. If one or both teams elect to hold the ball and milk clock, the number of snaps will be reduced. If UF gets 60 plays, that's 450 yards. If they get 70 plays, that's 525 yards. If they somehow got 80 snaps, we're looking at 600 yards of offense. I also expect UF to block a punt or score on a punt return, because Florida State has been sloppy in that area as of late.
Florida State's Offense v. Florida's Defense
Florida has the nation's best defense last year. This year, it is about as good. I don't think there has been a drop off, but rather that other defenses across the nation have improved. Perhaps if they played better offenses, they would get a bigger opponent adjustment and be rated higher. Florida has played the #11 offense (Arkansas), along with #24 (UGA), and #33 (Tennessee). Through 11 games, the Florida State offense has been the 6th best attack in the country. That is tremendous. But it's not necessarily indicative of the offense Florida State will put on the field tomorrow afternoon.
Florida State has now lost arguably the best quarterback in the country, Christian Ponder. They are without All-American Guard Rodney Hudson. Senior Tight End Caz Piurowski, considered a likely all-conference selection is gone for the year. Leading receiver Richard Goodman (at the time he was injured) is also out. That's 4 upperclassmen starters out for Florida State's offense. In their place are a Freshman, Junior, Sophomore, Sophomore. Florida State's offense will have just a single Senior on the field Saturday. This offense is now a shell of its former self. Is it better than Arkansas at #11? Tennessee at #33? Possibly.
As for the Gator defense, it is tremendous. UF's defense is right there with BC, Clemson, and North Carolina. And to my knowledge, it is not missing any key players due to injury. I mention that because when FSU played Clemson, the tigers were missing their best defensive player and then lost their two starting corners during the game. Carolina lost a linebacker and a starting corner. No team has gained 400 yards on the Gators. Only one team has cracked 350 yards, and that was Arkansas, who just barely bested the mark with 357 yards.
Florida State has two options. They can try to run, run, run, and hold the ball. Each run play can bleed 40 seconds off the game clock, and that is 1/90th of the game. But I hope they do not do that. It's not the offense's responsibility to hide the defense. The offense should try to score, not just shorten the game (though that is probably the more prudent strategy). Florida plays a ton of loose man coverage. FSU can exploit that with screens, which favors the 'Noles because FSU is a great screen team. I do not think UF will allow this, however, and then things should get interesting.
Why does a team allow the short stuff? Because they fear the deep game. If a team doesn't fear the deep game, there is no disincentive to take away the short game. That is what I expect UF to do. Expect the run game without Caz and Hudson to sputter and for freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel to turn the ball over and show some very erratic play typical of a freshman making only his 3rd start. In all, I expect FSU to gain 290 yards on about 65 plays. That's about 4.5 yards per play. I will concede that this number could be higher if UF pulls their starters early enough for Florida State to rack up some yards in garbage time (when the outcome of the game is already decided and the victor is not using all their resources to stop the loser).
Can FSU win this game? Yes, they can. To do so, I think the 'Noles would need:
- a major injury to Tebow or one of the UF offensive tackles,
- a special teams play for a score or that gives FSU the ball inside the UF 25 yard line,
- two scores of 40+ yards (hard to drive on UF), and
- 4 more UF turnovers than the 'Noles give up themselves.
Final Score Prediction: FSU 13, UF 49 Chance of winning: 3%
I would still pick UF to beat FSU by more than 10 points even if UF had their 2nd team offense. Please spare me the histrionics. If Florida crushes the 'Noles, you shouldn't be shocked. There is absolutely no reason to have a meltdown. You don't freak out when the sun rises because you expect it. You should also expect this. A huge loss here won't diminish all that the offense accomplished this year and won't dampen hopes for the future once FSU has a real head coach and competent defensive staff. The freak outs should have occurred when Florida State put a defense on the field that would be middle of the pack in the Sun Belt conference. I will be at the game to see this in person, but please make sure to join us here with all your 'Nole friends for our always fun live game-threads!
Inside, I have the weekly picks...
I didn't add anything from Sunday night, so the picks are the same as when I posted them Sunday night:
Current Record: +30.10
Bowling Green -7
Ark State -6.5
Ole Miss -6.5