Florida State vs. Florida: 10 Players Who Could Impact the Game
So, it hasn't quite been the season fans of Florida and Florida State hoped it would be.
But that doesn't mean Saturday night's game in The Swamp isn't a big deal.
For better bowl positioning. For pride. For recruiting.
And don't think that because Gator coach Will Muschamp and Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher are close friends, who share a beach house, that the contest won't be just as heated and intense as years past.
There are a ton of variables that go into rivalry matchups like this, but in the end, it comes down to the players.
Here is a look at 10 (five from each side) who could be difference-makers.
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At 6'5", 245 pounds with sub-4.6 40-yard dash speed, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is big, strong-armed and athletic.
A junior, Manuel is rated the fifth-best NFL prospect at his position in the 2013 class by CBSSports.
However, that is deceiving, considering the four ranked above him (Stanford's Andrew Luck, Southern California's Matt Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma's Landry Jones) are expected to declare themselves available for the 2012 draft.
That means if Manuel sticks around for next season and continues to show improvement, he could be in the discussion as a top five selection.
So far this year, Manuel has completed 177-of-267 passes for 2,352 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games (he missed FSU's 35-30 loss to Clemson with an injury).
He has completed at least 64.3 percent of his passes in all but two of his games this season.
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John Brantley doesn't have as high a rating on NFL draft boards as his Florida State counterpart, but the Gator senior could have an even bigger impact on this game than E.J. Manuel.
Brantley, projected as a mid- to late-round selection in the 2012 draft has had a frustrating year, due in great part to an ankle injury suffered just before halftime of Florida's 38-10 loss to then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 1.
That forced him out of road losses to LSU and Auburn—places a young Gator team could have used his veteran savvy.
The injury has lingered, but Brantley (123-of-209 for 1,808 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions) should enter his final game against Florida State as healthy as he has been for nearly two months.
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Once a Florida commitment, defensive back Greg Reid changed his mind late in the recruiting process and signed a national letter of intent with the rival Seminoles.
So, expect Gator fans to treat him like a turncoat Saturday night.
A 5'8", 185-pound junior, Reid hasn't had any interceptions this season and probably isn't even the best cornerback on FSU's roster (that would be 6'1", 215-pound redshirt sophomore Xavier Rhodes).
However, Reid is dynamic in the return game, having returned a punt for a touchdown in each of the last two seasons.
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Once a 240-pound defensive end, Jaye Howard has added between 60 and 70 pounds (depending on whether he has eaten dinner yet) to his 6'3" frame.
And it has been good weight, making him a bonafide NFL prospect as a 4-3 defensive tackle, or perhaps a 3-4 end.
Florida's most consistent defensive player in 2012, one would be hard-pressed to find a poor performance the Apopka (Fla.) native has had here in his senior season.
He is disruptive against the pass and stout against the run, and a player talented sophomores Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd can look up to.
In order to beat Florida State, the Gators likely will need another strong performance from Howard.
A pass-rushing demon, Brandon Jenkins will be playing on Sundays in the future.
The question is, will he be a defensive end or outside linebacker?
An end for Florida State, Jenkins stands 6'3", 265 pounds, but with sub-4.70 40-yard dash speed and outstanding lateral quickness, he also can drop into coverage.
It is highly unlikely he will be asked to stick with Florida's tremendous tight end, Jordan Reed, on Saturday night, however. And in no way will Jenkins be assigned covering speedy Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps out of the backfield.
So, look for Jenkins to do what he does best: get after the quarterback (in this case, John Brantley).
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Already he has been named one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation's top placekicker.
For the year, the senior from St. Augustine is 21-of-25 with no misses inside of 40 yards, and a long of 55 yards (twice). He's also been perfect on all 27 of his PATs.
One thing he hasn't been asked to do is win a game late in the clutch.
Could this be the week?
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A 6'6", 215-pound wide receiver, Rodney Smith is a huge target for Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel.
A junior from Miami, Smith leads the Seminoles with 30 receptions for 511 yards; he also has four touchdowns.
However, those numbers aren't quite what they seem.
His production has dropped considerably the last four weeks, where he has recorded just two catches for 18 yards against North Carolina State, one reception for 18 yards at Boston College, one catch for 21 yards versus Miami, and one reception for four yards versus Virginia.
Will Smith continue to be the forgotten man against a young Gator secondary? Or will he recreate the success he had early in the season, when he caught six passes for 78 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, five balls for 77 yards and a touchdown against Charleston Southern, and four passes for 118 yards and a touchdown at Clemson?
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A former quarterback, Jordan Reed probably won't supplant Georgia's Orson Charles as the All-SEC first-team tight end, but the Connecticut native may be well on his way to earning second-team honors.
A 6'3", 239-pound third-year sophomore, Reed has caught a team-high 28 passes for 307 yards (third-best) with a pair of touchdowns.
Florida's most consistently good offensive player this year, Reed has come on really strong as the season has progressed.
In his last four games Reed has four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown (against Georgia), three catches for 29 yards (Vanderbilt), five receptions for 62 yards (South Carolina) and four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown (Furman).
With sub-4.7 speed, good hands and nice leaping ability, Reed is a tough matchup for just about anyone.
Florida State Offensive Line
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Boasting one of the best offensive lines in the country, both Florida State's tackles, Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko, are ranked by CBSSports among the top seven NFL draft prospects at their position for 2012.
Sanders (6'5", 307 pounds) and Datko (6'6", 321 pounds) are huge and nimble, giving E.J. Manuel, in his first season as FSU's full-time starting quarterback, the protection he needs and desires.
FSU's offensive line is a major reason why the Seminoles average 401.3 yards-a-game on offense, and it will have a tough task on Saturday's, as UF's defensive front four is very talented.
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Arguably, the Gators team MVP this year, Rainey leads UF in rushing yardage (748) and is second to Andre Debose in receiving yardage (345).
Additionally, the senior from Lakeland (Fla.) is a dangerous return man who also can block punts if called upon to do so.
Florida State and Florida traditionally put out athletes with some of the best speed in the country on the field. Rainey and fellow Gator tailback Jeff Demps, the fastest player in college football, are prime examples.