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Friday November 16, 201210 Things to Watch: Florida vs. Jacksonville State

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators can win their 10th game of the season on Saturday with two games left -- at Florida State next week and a bowl game.

Win them all and the No. 7-ranked Gators -- sixth in the BCS -- would finish 12-1 and be right in the mix for the BCS national title.

That's a lot of ifs, of course, but that's what time of year it is. This is when every BCS scenario imaginable is debated over and over again on sports-talk radio, Internet message boards and ESPN.

It's also when some coaches gripe about the BCS and others campaign for better positioning.

The election season may be over, but in college football the campaigning is just beginning.

Florida coach Will Muschamp isn't one to spend much time fixated on what he has no control over. One of his favorite sayings is "We focus on Florida."

He was asked this week about his team's place in the BCS, its potential to creep higher, and what he thought about other coaches lobbying voters to give their team more love in the polls.

"I really donít worry about what the perception might be out there,'' Muschamp said. "Unfortunately, in our profession, sometimes perception becomes reality. I donít apologize for being 3-1 [against BCS top 10 teams] and the only one in the BCS top 10 that has that record.

"We have a better record than anyone else and a tougher schedule than anyone else in the country. I donít know what else you need to do. When you look at our record, schedule, and what we have accomplished this year, we have had a hell of a year."

The Gators have wins over LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M, all currently in the top 10 in the BCS. Their only loss of the season was to Georgia, fifth in the BCS.

All the Gators can do is win out and see how it all plays out, starting Saturday against Jacksonville State. A lot would have to fall Florida's way for a national title, but a BCS bowl is clearly within reach.

But first things first -- a look at 10 things to watch on Saturday against Jacksonville State:

BRISSETT IN CHARGE

Sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett is starting in place of injured Jeff Driskel. Brissett came off the bench in last week's win over Louisiana and completed 6 of 8 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.

While he technically started the season opener, this is the first time Brissett has started a game expecting to play from start to finish since last year's loss at Auburn.

A full week of practice with the starters should help Brissett's comfort zone on Saturday in what offensive coordinator Brent Pease calls a great opportunity for Brissett to help the Gators' offense.

SEEKING SECOND WIND

Florida's offensive line hasn't been the same since its dominating performance in the second half against LSU. The primary reason is a rash of injuries.

Xavier Nixon and James Wilson have battled knee injuries, center Jon Harrison hurt his arm, Jon Halapio injured an ankle and reserve Ian Silberman injured his shoulder.

Nixon and Wilson did not play last week but are considered probable on Saturday, which would be a huge boost for this ailing unit.

THE FUTURE

Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy made the play of the season last week when he blocked a punt in the final seconds to defeat Louisiana.

Purifoy is just one of several young players who have excelled of late. Defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr. have come on, as has linebacker Antonio Morrison and offensive lineman D.J. Humphries.

Muschamp said the Gators would need production from some first-year players to be successful and he was right. If not for the contributions of some of the true freshmen and sophomores, the Gators' season would likely have a different tone.

If the opportunity presents itself, look for a lot of young players on the field Saturday.

GILLY'S 1,000-YARD MARCH

The only SEC player with 1,000 yards rushing this season is not even a running back. Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel cracked the 1,000-yard barrier in last week's win at Alabama.

Florida senior Mike Gillislee's pace has slowed of last as opposing defenses have stacked the box against the run, but Gillislee remains in the hunt to become the Gators' first 1,000-yard rusher since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

Gillislee needs 158 more yards to reach a 1,000 for the season.

FESTIVE ATMOSPHERE

Senior Day at The Swamp is always a special moment and for 18 seniors on this year's team, Saturday will be a day they won't forget.

Also, Florida is honoring military veterans with a "Saluting Those Who Serve" program and pre-game flyover.

GAMECOCKS' OFFENSE

Jacksonville State knows how to move the ball up and down the field. The Gamecocks are averaging 430.9 yards per game, 100 yards more per outing than the Gators.

Two players to keep an eye on are flanker Allan Bonner, who scored five touchdowns in one game earlier this season, and quarterback Marques Ivory, who has thrown for 4,663 yards in his career.

HELP WANTED

Other than for tight end Jordan Reed, Florida's receivers have had an up-and-down season. There have been big plays, then stretches without any.

With Brissett at quarterback and more of a traditional drop-back passer than Driskel -- and with Andre Debose and Solomon Patton out with injuries -- this would be a good time for someone to emerge in the passing game.

Omarius Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr. Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton should get some throws their way on Saturday. Also, true freshmen Latroy Pittman and Ralph Andrades should take a few more offensive snaps with Debose and Patton out.

CRISP PERFORMANCE

With the FSU game looming, the Gators coaching staff would like to see a well-executed game and a reduction in penalties.

Muschamp challenged the players to be more accountable in his postgame remarks after last week's win and stressed better execution all week in practice.

Florida committed 10 penalties and lacked the mental sharpness it needed at times to perhaps take control against Louisiana. Instead, the Ragin' Cajuns hung around and nearly pulled off the upset.

FIRST-HALF FIRE

The early start can mean a late start by the Gators. In last week's win the Gators came out slow and looked lethargic at times in the first half. In fact, The Swamp seemed more subdued than usual.

The Gators have proven they are a second-half team with seven comeback wins. Still, that's not the way they draw it up.

The Gators could use a fast start to make it less interesting for everyone involved after halftime. Jacksonville State won't be a willing participant, but if the Gators come out fired up, they could at least set an early tone that might carry over throughout the game.

STREAK WATCH

The Gators have an impressive 50-game win streak against teams outside the BCS. Florida has not lost to a non-BCS program since a loss to Memphis State in 1988.

That streak was in serious jeopardy a week ago when Louisiana-Lafayette led 20-13 in the final two minutes before a miraculous comeback by the Gators that was capped by Purifoy's blocked punt and Jelani Jenkins' 36-yard touchdown return with two seconds left.

Jacksonville State will take a turn next.

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GATORS GAMEBOX

Jacksonville State (6-4) at No. 7 Florida (9-1)

Kickoff: Saturday, 1 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

TV: Pay-per-view Ė Larry Vettel (play-by-play), Nat Moore (analyst) and Brady Ackerman (sideline)

Internet: WatchESPNESPN3.com (available outside Florida only)

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (click here for affiliates); GatorVision audio; XM 201; Sirius 104

Game notes: Jacksonville State; Florida

Bottom line: The Gators can finish with a perfect record at home for the first time since 2009 with a victory. Florida also would like to pick up some momentum for next week's showdown in Tallahassee against Florida State.

 

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