While most of the FBS schools are locked up in conference matchups this week, the No. 1 Florida Gators and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide are scrimmaging.
No, the teams didn't schedule their bye week late, though it feels that way. Both teams are playing pathetic opponents, which will be rolled handily, setting up the top two's respective Thanksgiving weekend rivalry games.
Since the addition of the totally worthless 12th game, Florida has scheduled a week 11 cupcake (week 11 weak one?).
The pattern is not a coincidence; it is all part of Urban Meyer's plan. Take a look; since 2006, the schedule has followed this pattern: Cupcake, Cupcake, SEC x8 (bye week somewhere in here), Cupcake, FSU.
Alabama doesn't follow a pattern like the Gators, other than scheduling a couple of totally crap teams every year.
So why the strict schedule? Has Meyer found some secret formula for success?
Maybe he has.
During Steve Spurrier's tenure, he often put the bye week before Georgia. Back then, Florida only scheduled two cupcakes a year (FSU always eats up one non–conference game), so a bye seven weeks into the season broke it up nicely.
Now, Meyer can schedule three weak teams. This gives Florida the traditional two-game tune-up prior to SEC play, a bye week during SEC play, the rest of the SEC season, then a terrible team, and then FSU (currently known as another terrible team).
This smart scheduling effectively gives the Gators the luxury of having a preseason and two bye weeks during the season, a huge advantage in the battle against fatigue and injuries when a team is trying to run the table.
However, there are a few concerns with playing what amounts to a late season goof-off game (outside of the fact that the Gators play three games a year that nobody wants to watch).
The whole point of this game is to iron out whatever kinks 10 weeks of football have put in the team's play. Also, Urban wants his starters to get out of the game early. This serves the bye week function of the cupcake game, but it can disrupt a team's timing.
Right now, it doesn't seem that the Gators' offense can get any more erratic. All day they move the ball, but then they get inside of the red zone and transform into the Cleveland Browns. It's embarrassing, really.
Meyer and Steve Addazio will focus on spreading the spread out against FIU and scoring lots of points. The target for the week is probably "beat the spread," but the Gators must be careful in how they go about getting all of those points.
What the Gators don't need is to run stupid plays that won't work in the Gators' next three games.
A triple-option reverse pass to Tim Tebow out of the wildcat will look awesome, and it will probably go for a touchdown against the overmatched Panthers, but realistically, FSU, Alabama, and whoever the Gators get in the bowl season won't fall for something so ridiculous.
A play like that against FIU serves no purpose other than maybe getting on SportsCenter's Top 10. What the Gators need to focus on is getting the ball to receivers on real plays and seeing if Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Co. still have a pulse.
By going too gimmicky against FIU and winning on athleticism instead of execution, the Gators can actually hurt their already poor rhythm, leaving the team worse off following all-you-can-crush cupcake day.
Basically, a 45–10 victory by running a more open version of the offense the Gators have run so far (i.e. lots of passing) is better than running the A-11 offense for one game and winning by 90.
Balancing reps with rest
The Gators can also hurt themselves by taking the starters out too soon. If Tebow only gets two or three passes, the FIU game is worthless. If the defense is taken out after the first quarter, the Gators are better off scheduling Texas. The coaches must give the starters get enough reps to justify the game setting and to keep the rust off this late in the season.
Conversely, they can't have someone go down against FIU. Charles Barkley thinks that's a knucklehead move, and depending on who it is (Tebow, Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes), it may cost UF a shot at the national championship.
The second big part of the two-part reasoning behind scheduling cupcakes so late in the season is rest, and Tim Tebow's Rushing Attack: Dive!, aka the Gators' offense, could use it.
Don't suffer the letdown
I don't mean the kind of letdown Michigan had against App State. The Gators won't lose to FIU on Saturday. There is literally a zero percent chance of that happening. The Gators can have a letdown by allowing FIU to score 28 points though.
The Golden Panthers have been held under 20 points four times this season, and UF hasn't allowed more than 20 all season. The most likely spoiler goal for FIU is ruining that stat.
FIU knows they won't win this game. They'll prepare as hard as they can and come out and try to win, but they know they won't. A moral victory can be achieved, though, by making the Gators look weak in victory. This will make the Gators look bad and give their upcoming opponents a little bit more confidence.
This goes double for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama and Florida have been going back and forth all season. Seven opponents are shared between the two (Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi St., LSU, and FIU). Each of those opponents has been analyzed, and the team that won bigger has been given the advantage for whatever given week.
Right now, they are tied with three "bigger wins" apiece. Florida looked stronger against LSU, Tennessee, and Kentucky, while Alabama looked stronger against Arkansas, Mississippi St., and South Carolina. FIU is a little tiebreaker. The team with the more impressive win gets the common opponents victory for two weeks until the real victor can be decided.
This may all be inconsequential media hype, but I'm sure more than a few players have done the comparisons. Ultimately, it will pile one more thing onto the mental edge pile for either the Gators or the Tide (in case you're wondering, Alabama won 40-14).
The bottom line
What this game boils down to is winning big enough to look good while addressing problem areas and giving the starters ample rest. It's not as easy as "throw them out there for a half, score a bunch of points, and then see what that John Brantley kid's got."
While the gameplan will likely follow that basic pattern, there's a lot more that must go into this game if the Gators want to benefit from the late cupcake.