Florida Gators 2014 Game Previews: Game Twelve, Florida State Seminoles

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And so we come, finally, to the last game. The rivalry game.

At 8-3 in my 2014 projections, Will Muschamp’s Gators are hot, but he knows he still has work to do in order to keep his job for 2015. I- and most rational people- project Florida State to be, at the very least, in the hunt for the four team playoff coming down to the final week of the season. Plus, the game’s going to be played on FSU’s home turf. But then again, so was the game 10 years ago…

PREVIOUSLY PREVIEWING:

Game One: Florida 45, Idaho 3

Game Two: Florida 52, Eastern Michigan 7

Game Three: Florida 35, Kentucky 6

Game Four: Alabama 31, Florida 14

Game Five: Florida 20, Tennessee 17

Game Six: LSU 14, Florida 10

Game Seven: Florida 38, Missouri 16

Game Eight: Georgia 27, Florida 23

Game Nine: Florida 34, Vanderbilt 10

Game Ten: Florida 30, South Carolina 20

Game Eleven: Florida 55, Eastern Kentucky 13

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

2013: 14-0 (8-0 SEC), ACC Champs (def. Duke) BCS National Champs (def. Auburn)

Last Meeting (2013): FSU 37, Florida 7

All Time Series: Florida 34, FSU 22 (2 ties)

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, 5th year (45-10)

Who Are You?

I personally believe Georgia is Florida’s biggest rival, if only because of the implications within the SEC East that this rivalry (obviously) does not have. But don’t get me wrong. FSU is a huge rival for Florida, and while I get the feeling that FSU hates Florida more than Florida hates FSU (my guess as to why is that no matter what happens in an argument, Florida can say 34-22 and there’s no real equivalent response), there’s not a Gator fan alive who doesn’t have a burning desire to beat this team after what happened last season.

But beating them is going to be a tall order, to say the least. Florida State’s good. Really good. They may not be quite what they were a year ago, but they’re still a force. Jimbo Fisher has built a sturdy program with an SEC blueprint, and the Noles appear to be replacing the guys who leave with equally/more effective pieces (see Jameis Winston replacing EJ Manuel).

Having said that, the Noles are beatable. It’s going to take almost a perfectly played game from Florida, but it’s possible.

OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning Starters: 7

The FSU offense might be slightly less explosive than it was a year ago. But make no mistake. It’s still going to be one of the nation’s best. It starts with Jameis Winston, the Noles’ Mr. Everything and answer to Tim Tebow. His arsenal of playmakers in the receiving corps took a hit with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw (1,944 yards between them last year) now playing on Sundays, but Rashad Greene is back to give Winston one dependable target, and all-ACC tight end Nick O’Leary makes two. How well this offense functions depends on whether FSU can find that third dependable target.

Christian Green could be that guy. After an impressive freshman year in 2011, Green was lost in the shadows of Benjamin and Shaw over the past two years. But he’s looked sharp this offseason, and he, along with BCS Title game hero Lavonte Whitfield and highly touted freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane, will be counted on to make plays for their Heisman Trophy winning QB.

The running game also has its work cut out. There’s 1,579 yards worth of production to replace with the losses of Devonte Freeman and James Wilder Jr. But the talent to do it is there. Karlos Williams gives them a dependable #1 back, and there’s depth behind him. After missing 2012 due to injury and being ruled academically ineligible last year, Mario Pender is finally ready to play. He’ll compete with Ryan Green and freshman Dalvin Cook for that second spot. There may not be much experience, but each of these guys can inflict damage.

This offensive unit is rounded out by a stellar offensive line. There are four returning starters, and of those four, there’s one All-American (tackle Cam Erving) and one additional all-ACC pick (guard Tre Jackson). All five starters will be seniors. To sum that all up: the Gators’ front seven is going to have a tough task.

Offensive Grade: A-

Replacing so many playmakers at once (two of the top three receiving targets and two of the top four rushers) won’t be easy. But there’s still plenty of talent left, plus some new talent (Lane, Cook, Pender). Worse comes to worse, Jameis Winston will find a way to make the offense tick.

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Returning Starters: 7

FSU didn’t really need its defense last year. Who needs a defense when your offense can put up 40 on a bad day? The Noles blew out most of their opponents, and their offense won the game for them both times they were really challenged, against Boston College and Auburn. But it was there anyway, and lost amid the talk of Jameis Winston and the offense, it was quietly one of the best in the country last year.

Jimbo Fisher felt confident in linebackers coach Charles Kelly to promote him to defensive coordinator after losing Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia. Kelly has some reloading to do: star DT Timmy Jernigan, CB LaMarcus Joyner and LB’s Telvin Smith and Christian Jones have left for the NFL. But like the situation on offense, FSU has talent to work with.

Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman return to anchor the defensive line, and they’ll be joined by Chris Casher and Niles Lawrence-Stample to form a very strong front four. My question about this defense is at the linebacker level. Three of their biggest contributors (Dan Hicks, Jones and Smith) are gone, and they’re left with one starter (Terrance Smith). Reggie Northrup takes over at weak side linebacker, while Ukeme Eligwe slides in at the strong side spot. Can these two guys step up and make plays the way Telvin Smith and Christian Jones did?

Finally, we get to FSU’s defensive backfield, which should again be a major strength. They do lose Joyner and safety Terrance Brooks back there, but Ronald Darby, PJ Williams and Jalen Ramsey are more than capable of picking up where they left off. Ramsey, the first freshman to start at corner for the Noles since 1985, is in a lot of ways similar to Vernon Hargreaves- young, talented, and physical, and can hold his own with even the best receivers. Florida’s receivers may have a long day.

Defensive Grade: A

Questions at linebacker keep me from giving this defense an A+. But this is easily one of the nation’s top ten, and probably top five, defenses. If the Gators’ offense can’t at least match the high expectations of Kurt Roper and this new offense, they will struggle.

Florida Key: Offense

The Gators have to get the ground attack going early and often, or else they’re going to get sledgehammered. And I do think Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane will have some success. Remember, FSU had the nation’s top rush defense in 2012, and the Gators shredded them for 244 yards on the ground. With a good offensive line, I expect another decent showing in the running game. But decent isn’t going to beat FSU. Great might, like it did in 2012.

Florida Key: Defense

Lost among a year’s worth of “37-7″ taunts from FSU fans is a curious fact: for a quarter and a half of last year’s game, the Florida defense completely shut down Jameis Winston and FSU’s offense. The Gators sacked Winston four times, and even picked him off once. Check the tape of the first half of that game. A banged up front seven got in Winston’s face on a consistent basis last year (which is exactly what I said they’d have to do about six minutes in to this interview); Florida’s fully healthy front seven this year should be exponentially better, so if Muschamp is smart- and he is- he’ll stuff the box and try to rattle Winston again.

Key Matchup: Kelvin Taylor, Adam Lane & Florida offensive line vs. FSU front seven

If there’s a weakness in this Seminoles defense, it’s the linebacker position. I’ll again point to the 2012 game, in which the Gators’ 109th ranked offense racked up 244 yards on the ground against FSU’s top ranked rush defense. I know the players are different on both sides now, and I’m not suggesting Florida can duplicate that number. But I am saying that if Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane get going, FSU’s going to be in a world of trouble. Because that will mean Florida will control the ball for long periods of time, and thus, the Gators’ defense will get the rest it needs to resume its hot pursuit of Winston each time they take the field. If the running game gets going, a lot of stars will suddenly align.

What Does This Game Mean?

Well, you’ve read my Florida-FSU rivalry piece at some point, I’m sure; that should pretty much explain the tone of this rivalry. But as for implications specific to this year, a loss doesn’t mean a ton. It’s just what the folks in Vegas predicted, and it’s what most realistic fans are predicting, too. The worst that could possibly happen: FSU bludgeons us again, and even then we have “34-23″ in our back pocket.

A win, on the other hand…

I still have serious questions about Will Muschamp heading into this season. They can be immediately erased by winning one of two games: this one or Alabama. Beating FSU in Tallahassee would pretty much guarantee Muschamp his job back in 2015, unless he’s done something unforgivable, like lose to Idaho or limp into this game at 6-5, and thus gets fired before the game even kicks off.

If Florida somehow enters this game in the mix for the college football playoff, it could be their golden ticket in. Since 2011, Florida is the only team to win a game on their home turf, and if they do it again, they have a leg up on everybody else up for consideration: they would have won on the home field of a team that’s almost certain to be in the discussion for the four team playoff as well.

Overview:

This game cannot be a replay of the 37-7 beatdown that took place a year ago in Gainesville if only because it may not be possible for a team to be worse than the Gators were by last November. 2014 Florida will be leagues better than 2013 Florida on offense, and assuming the injury situation isn’t anywhere near what it was last year, this could actually be a dark horse national championship contender. Yes, really. Remember how the Gators came out of nowhere in 2012?

But asking for a win in Tallahassee is too much. As much as it hurts me to say this, FSU is just too powerful from top to bottom. I do think the Noles will take a slight step back in 2014, and by “slight step” I mean I believe they’ll lose the type of game they shouldn’t like they did to NC State in 2012 and escaped from against Boston College last year. But they’ll come into this game somewhere in the 4-8 range (since all I’ve done this offseason is make graphics like this one showing why Florida is historically better than FSU, I owe Seminole fans that one) and very much in the mix for the college football playoff.

Don’t worry too much about losing on the road to what’s almost certain to be a top 10 team, though. College football rivalries go in cycles. Remember how Florida beat FSU six straight times? That streak ended just five years ago. It wasn’t that long ago that the Gators were on top of the state, despite the fact that it suddenly seems like forever right now. The Noles are the dominant team right now, and it sucks. I have no doubt that the Gators will reclaim the state some day, just like I have no doubt that the Gators will give FSU their best shot this year. But barring nap time in Doak Campbell Stadium and an array of FSU turnovers like the ones Florida gave to Miami last year or Georgia two years ago- or, of course, Florida being worlds better or FSU being worlds worse than I anticipate them being- “some day” won’t be this November.

Projection: FSU 28, Florida 13


Comments

Florida Gators 2014 Game Previews: Game Twelve, Florida State Seminoles — 31 Comments

  1. Crazy as this seems, I do think Florida will beat FSU this year. Not sure why. I know FSU is the better team, but they were in 1997 and 2004, too. Sometimes, in rivalry games, things happen that you just can’t predict. Who predicted Ron Zook’s lame duck team would walk into Doak with nothing to play for and walk out with a win? That’s why they play the games. Florida 31, FSU 27

    • I don’t see how Florida can put 31 on that defense without some serious help from FSU. If you want to predict an upset that’s one thing, but it won’t happen if FSU hits 20, and it’s going to take a fantastic performance by the Florida defense to do that. Hold the Noles to 17 points, and Florida has a chance. But giving up 27 points and expecting to win is, in my view, unrealistic.

      • Yeah, but like you alluded to in the article, nobody expected the Gators to rip FSU’s NUMBER ONE RUSH DEFENSE YO for 244 yards on the ground. Things happen in some games that you can’t predict. Who’d have thought that both Florida and Oklahoma would be so offensively challenged in the 2009 BCS Championship Game? I believe Jameis will get his points, but also that the Gators’ offense will have a ton more success than you think.

        • Right, but I also said I don’t think Florida can do that again. FSU’s defense is much better this year than it was in 2012, and I don’t think Stoops called the right defensive game plan that day. And your comparison to the 2009 BCS Championship isn’t really the best, because each side had over a month to prepare to stop the other’s high flying offense.

          • All I know is, our offense was fucking garbage all of 2012. FSU’s rush defense was the best in the country through 11 games. Then we get to Tallahassee, and put… I’ll say it again… 244 yards on the ground on them. TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY FUCKING FOUR YARDS on what was the BEST RUSH DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY. How did that rush defense get to be #1? Probably because they beat up on the other Almost Competitive Conference teams and shut them down. Hell, even last year, our practice squad went toe to toe with them for almost the entire first half. I just don’t think they’re so great.

  2. Ummm, yeah. This is going to be bad. Very bad. I expect 2014 to play out kind of like 2000- Florida is going to be much better, and maybe even win the SEC like they did in 2000, but then they’ll come on the road to Tallahassee and get walloped. FSU wins 24-6

  3. A two touchdown loss seems fair enough. But I’ll tell you this: if your other predictions come true and Florida winds up 8-4 in the manner you predicted- Muschamp’s gone. And deservedly so.

    • Agreed. Lose to Georgia four straight times and it’s off with his head. I can deal with 1-3 against FSU because of how good they are (pause, let me go vomit) but losing three times to Georgia teams that have each lost multiple games in the years in which they beat us is bad enough. Make it four (presumably to a 9-3 area team) and he’s gone. Beat Georgia and win 10 games (including a bowl game, so 10-3 total) and he can stay.

      Don’t like it? Think it’s too much to ask? Well, guess what. That’s the mess 4-8 started.

      • Contrary to my user name, YOU are the man ;)

        The closer we get to football season, the more people pretend like last year never happened. Fact is, it did happen. Fact is, Muschamp’s record is worse than Ron Zook’s. Fact is, I’ve long since lost my patience with this fucker from Georgia masquerading around as a Gator coach. If he wants to stay, he needs to prove he’s not a double agent by BEATING GEORGIA. HE MUST BEAT THE DAWGS. 11-1 with a fourth straight loss to Georgia is UNACCEPTABLE. YOU MUST BEAT YOUR RIVALS. Honestly, I’d rather go 9-3 with a win over Georgia than 11-1 with a loss to them.

        Like you said, that seems like a lot to ask. I realize that putting so much on the line in one game is a little unrealistic. But… THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GO FOUR AND EIGHT.

        • I don’t necessarily disagree with either of y’all, but come on. The season starts in a week. Let’s at least hide the negativity until/unless the situation in Gainesville warrants using any.

  4. Christian Green is interesting to me. I remember him as a freshman, and I thought he’d be a great player for them someday. Then Benjamin and Shaw stole his limelight, and he got buried beneath their shadows. But I think he could have a fantastic senior year.

    • Same here. I think with O’Leary and Greene with an E at the end ahead of him, he still won’t show his full potential, but I do think he can make some solid contributions to this FSU team and place himself somewhere in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.

  5. So FSU build their program “SEC like”? So I guess the 14 consecutive years from the 90’s was SEC like. FSU program is a Bobby Bowden blueprint NOT the SEC. And all this tough SEC games, Florida plays Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky…come on man!!

    • That was then. This is, in case you haven’t noticed, a new decade, and a new formula for winning in Tallahassee. It’s not unfair to compare the Noles to Alabama, at least in how they’re structured.

  6. Nice to hear from you Neil!

    Much like last year, I have some different views on a few things, however I think this year’s article is much closer to being accurate than last year. To be fair, no one predicted Winston would be an INSTANT upgrade over 1st round NFL pick, EJ Manuel.
    Here is my response for your preview, and i’ll try to repost it on your site (I had issues signing up when you first moved over, but it may have been my phone)

    OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN:
    QB 2013: Winston, A+ / 2014: Winston A+
    I think he gets better. Faster reads, more patient, more mature (on the field)
    Overall: minor upgrade

    WR 2013: Greene, KB, Shaw A+/ 2014 Greene, Kermit?, Rudolf/Lane? B+
    No one is KB, he will be missed. Replacing one of the best WR units we’ve ever had with a lot of untested talent. Some Incredible athletes competing for playing time, but not proven. Anchored by Greene, who will probably be FSU’s most decorated WR in school history by seasons end.
    Overall: Downgrade

    RB 2013: Freeman, Wilder, LOS B+ / 2014: LOS, Pender, Cook A
    Replacing 2 NFL running backs is usually no easy task. BUT…. Karlos Williams is a BEAST. One of the best athletes in the country, the converted safety played his first game at RB in game 2, and took his first carry for a 60 yard TD. He averaged an insane 8 yards per carry, and will be a true feature back this season. 230 lbs, and was one step behind Kermit during the 100 yard kick off return in the national championship, after throwing a block. No one should be that big AND that fast. Backed up by Mario Pender, a stud recruit that has missed playing time due to off field issues, which have been solved. Also, Mr Cook, freshman phenom (I hope lol) is blazing fast, running a bat crap crazy 24MPH at a Nike camp this off season.
    Overall: Upgrade

    TE 2013: NOL A / 2014: NOL, Hapela, Kerr, Freshmen A
    Having NOL back is huge, similar to Greene, Nick O’Leary will be the most decorated TE in school history by seasons end. Major difference this year is that the position isn’t decimated by injuries and transfers. Because of inexperience at WR, this years offense is going to use a lot more of Jimbo’s formation switching packages that use TEs in a variety of ways (very similar to the NE patriots a few years back). This drives defenses nuts, and Winston is the perfect QB for it because of his ability to process what the defense is giving him and find the open man.
    Overall: The same

    OL 2013: A / 2014: A+
    4 of the same starters, and the new center is the 4th year, primary backup from last year. Slight downgrade at C, but minor upgrades everywhere else, and more importantly, a WORLD more depth. FSU was crazy lucky with OL injury luck last year. Even ONE major OL injury may have wrecked our NC run. To me this is a slight upgrade due to experience, and a BIG upgrade on depth… we actually have multiple backups! Every major service has FSU as the #1 OL entering this season.
    Overall: Minor upgrade

    OFFENSE OVERALL: A+
    Yes, there will be some new WRs. No, it wont slow down this DeathStar. Jimbo’s offense is complicated. EJ Manuel’s first major NFL interview involved him laughing about how much easier the Buffalo Bills playbook is compared to FSU’s. It was built during his years at LSU, and formulated to defeat Nick Saban’s Pattern Match defense, by using player sets that can transition between formations without substituting. A 22 set can run the classic Ace, flip to an offset I, and then motion out to a shotgun 4 wide without ever giving the defense a chance to adjust. The problem is, this is very very hard. You must have TEs who can run block and pass block and catch. RB’s who can run AND pass protect. A line that can give the QB and WRs time for the plays to develop. WRs who can handle the freedom of being able to alter routes, on the fly, depending on how the defenders react. And, hardest of all, a QB who can process everything that’s going on and get the ball to the mismatch. We have that QB in Jameis Winston. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, or the fastest 40yard dash. What he does have is an incredible ability to recognize what the defense is doing, see everything that’s happening on the field, and anticipate where his receivers will be and throw with anticipation. Last year, FSU scored more points than any team in college football history. That was due to both the offense and defense working near perfectly. As long as Jameis is healthy (knock on wood) FSU will have an amazing offense.

    DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN
    DL 2013: TJ8, Goldman, MEJ, Jones A+ / 2014: NLS, Goldman, MEJ, Casher B+
    Timmy will be missed. DT’s with the ability of Loco Ocho are hard to come by. Niles Lawarance Stample steps in at the nose and is a downgrade. Mario Edwards Jr may be the best athlete in the country. A lot of people who don’t watch games think he’s underperforming because he doesn’t have a lot of sacks. That’s nonsense, MEJ’s job isn’t to get sacks. Its to OWN the edge, shutdown the run, eat blockers, and allow the LBs to wage war. There is no one in the country better at setting the edge and without MEJ, FSU doesn’t beat Auburn and win the NC – no question. He will be amazing and is the only reason DL is a B+ and not a B or a B-. Eddie Goldman is a hell of a DT, but hes not TJ8.
    Overall: downgrade
    LB: 2013: Smith, Smith, Jones. B+ / 2014: Insert 4/5 star with multiple years in the system here, and repeat. B
    We don’t really lose athletic talent at LB, in fact, this year will probably be an upgrade athletically. However we lose a Lot of leadership and experience. And on defense, knowledge is power.
    Overall: minor downgrade (probably a minor upgrade by seasons end, due to experience catching up to talent)
    DB 2013: LJ, Brooks, Ramsey, Williams, Darby A+ / 2014: Ramsey, Hunter, Darby, Williams, Andrews A+
    The No Fly Zone continues with FSU’s ever evolving list of superstar DBs. There is just a silly amount of talent here. Darby and Williams are being projected by many as the first 2 CBs selected come draft day. I know I will hear crap for this but, Jalen Ramsey was the only freshman last year with an argument to the best defensive freshman over Vernon Hargreaves. Both are insane athletic talents, both have amazing ball skills (slight edge to Vernon), both have great highlight tackles (slight edge to Ramsey. Yes, he missed a tackle in the NC game, but he was being partially blocked by his own teammate, and missing that tackle worked out perfectly.) Both are way ahead of where they should be as freshman. Both earned starting spots on 2 of the best defensive backfields in the country, and both have fantastic leadership. Hunter is back at S, making an amazingly athletic Safety tandem, and Andrews was another amazing freshman, with a nack for interceptions. When Tylor Hunter is your weak link, you are in a Very good place.
    Overall: The Same.

    Defense Overall:
    New DC, Same system. Many of the same faces. To much talent to fail. Jimbo invested in coaches to bring FSU a Saban defense and it only makes me love him more. Not at all worried about the DC transition. Last year we had 7 new coaches and a new scheme. This year we have experience in the system and a defense so full of talent that only a hand full of Defenses in the country compare: a healthy UF, and Alabama.
    The strength of this Defense is its DBs, and Saban’s pattern match defenses work Back to Front.
    A+

    I think FSU beats UF this year. I also think FSU wins another National Championship and sends an NFL record amount of draft picks to the league. I think just about everyone who can go early does. 2013 was supposed to be the rebuilding year for 2014. THIS is the year we are supposed to make the push. And before get called a homer, remember: Vegas has FSU beating everyone by 14+ points. ESPN has FSU chances of going undefeated at 40%, more than twice 2nd place. This is probably going to be the best FSU team we see for a long time. After this season, we will have some serious rebuilding to do, and I expect UF to take full advantage of that.

    Game prediction: UF 17, FSU 31

    • That’s a pretty fair assessment.

      But I don’t think FSU is going to repeat. Hell, it’s virtually impossible for anybody to repeat. There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in decades. Everybody’s gunning for FSU now, the way everybody’s been gunning for Alabama the past few years. Alabama hasn’t gone undefeated since 2009, when they won the first one under Saban. And sure, their schedule is always tougher than FSU’s, but every once in awhile, the Noles lose that game they shouldn’t. Big upset, nobody sees it coming, it dominates SportsCenter and social media for the next 48 hours. With everybody making FSU their personal mid season national championship game, I think they slip up one time and wind up in the Orange Bowl.

      • I agree its very very hard to repeat. But while this season has a few hard tests in Notre Dame, Clemson, UL and UF, the rest of the season should be cake walk for this team. I just see as too loaded to have an “NC state” type slip up. My biggest upset alert would be Miami – and we them totally outgunned. UF might end up being the best team we play until the playoffs, but I wont bet against Winston. I expect him to be this years number one overall pick in the NFL draft.

        Now, if we run afoul of the injury monster the way UF did last season…. yeah, all bets are off.

        • I hate to say it but fsu most likely makes the playoff- I think they will need to be undefeated to do so as the acc gets little respect (deservedly so) so a one loss fsu team would probably be out. I think fsu could stumble in the playoff. Who knows what two (if they win the first) teams they may draw.

          I am too much of a gator homer to pick this game so early. I’ll wait and make a homer pick later this year.

        • I understand your point. But no one team is immune to the upset bug. Remember how Florida lost to Ole Miss? With everybody making the Noles their national championship game, I just have this feeling that somebody’s going to take them down. Is it Miami? Probably not. Florida? Possibly, but being in Tallahassee I have my doubts. Louisville? Notre Dame? Oklahoma State on the first week of the season? My most likely upset pick would be Clemson- I know they lose a lot on offense, but their defense should be really, really, good.

          Aren’t predictions fun?

  7. I love how the the the total win and loss is factored in to the equation when a team is losing. This is not a traditional series such as Notre Dame-USC. FSU was a girls school conversion that UF refused to even play in Tallahassee for several years. You should be ashamed for even mentioning it, but then again, it is really all you have right now. Not sure how a girls school even competes today with a rich school that had a several decades head start, but then I remember it only took UF 50 years to win a conference title. Wow!

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