Game Preview: No. 4 Florida (8-1) vs. No. 25 South Carolina (7-3)
*BCS Rankings used.
Just like old times. "The Ol' Ball Coach," Steve Spurrier, will be prowling the sidelines in Gainesville Saturday, Florida will then face Alabama in the SEC championship game, and the Gators are in the middle of a winning streak that has seen them put up 30-plus-point wins over four SEC opponents.
Despite the nostalgia factor of Saturday's game, it really is 2008 and not 1996. Spurrier will be on the opposing sideline as head coach of the Gamecocks and the No. 1 defense in the SEC. The Gamecocks come into Gainesville looking to secure their first New Year's Day bowl bid since 2001.
South Carolina has beaten Florida once since joining the SEC in 1992, but did come very close in 2006. The 2006 game was a classic that came down to a final field goal by South Carolina. It was blocked by Jarvis Moss and the win propelled Florida to a BCS Championship.
Florida wins the game if...
1. It sticks to the "one game at a time" theme.
After every game this season, the pulse of the Gator Nation has looked ahead, and after every win the buzz from Gainesville is moving outward toward the rest of the country. Some people may call it "drinking the Kool-Aid," Urban Meyer calls it "Florida nonsense."
At this point in the season, the Ole Miss game seems like an aberration. Florida is playing as well as any team in the country, and it all comes from the head coach. Urban Meyer has this team focused on one priority every week, and that is the game in front of them. This team has been dialed in every week, and has a focused ruthlessness not seen since the Steve Spurrier era.
2. The "forgotten" players keep making plays.
Every college football fan with a pulse knows that the Gators' offense starts with the duo of Tebow and Harvin. Then it trickles down to Demps and Rainey. After those four players, you would have to be a serious follower of Florida football to know that on Saturday against Vanderbilt; Harvin had one touchdown, while Demps and Rainey didn't find the end zone. Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper, and David Nelson had more touchdowns Saturday than Rainey, Demps, and Harvin had combined.
Add in the touchdown that Percy Harvin had taken away due to a terrible and now highly controversial (Meyer is contacting the SEC offices) 'fumble' call by the officials when it was clear he broke the plane of the goalline, the non-overturn by the replay official, and they would still fall short.
Aside from maybe Southern Cal, there is not another team in America that could go up to 11 or 12 deep with players who can take it to the house at any point. Also, remember running back Emmanual Moody? He's finally getting healthy. He's carried the ball 14 times for 119 yards in the last two games, which averages to 8.5 yards a carry. Just another weapon to have for the run to the BCS.
Florida loses the game if...
The game is played ugly
IF, (and a big if) the Gators are turnover-prone, the game is low-scoring, there are missed opportunities in the red zone, they have sloppy execution, and there is a possible letdown now that the SEC East is clinched; the Gators lose this game.
South Carolina doesn't have the offensive weapons to get into a shootout with the Gators, (their leading receiver is tight end Jared Cook), so the Gamecocks will try to contain the Gator offense long enough that they can stay in the ball game. South Carolina's defense is statistically ranked as the best in the SEC, while their offense is sadly ranked 86th in the NCAA (seventh in the SEC), which is strange given the offensive nature of their head coach.
The X-Factor will be...
South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier
Even though he may be patrolling the opposing sidelines now, Steve Spurrier is still as much a part of the Gator football program now as he once was. He is living proof that the Gators had a football program before he was the coach. He was the first Heisman Trophy winner in school history, and later the coach who brought the first official SEC crown to Gainesville.
Not many people can say they put a football program on the map twice. Steve Spurrier made the Gators a decent regional team as a player, and then took them to a national level as a coach. His name is twice-displayed proudly in The Swamp; once as a Heisman winner and once in the Ring of Honor.
He is revered in Gainesville, and will be welcomed home on Saturday as Gainesville's favorite son. He is probably the only Gator who can give Tim Tebow a serious run for his money in terms of popularity right now.
Game Prediction: Florida 35, South Carolina 14
*A big thanks to Rusty Thompson and the boys at Gatortailgating.com for puting this article on their site.