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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel's expected return comes at a good time with No. 10 FSU looming.

Saturday November 24, 201210 Things to Watch: Gators vs. Seminoles

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel's expected return comes at a good time with No. 10 FSU looming.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one had to remind Gators senior nose tackle Omar Hunter what was next.

Even before Hunter walked off Florida Field for the final time in a Gators uniform on Senior Day last weekend, Hunter turned his attention to the future rather than reflect on the past.

"As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldnít help but think about Florida State," Hunter said this week. "Itís Florida-Florida State. Itís going to be a very big game."

The annual Gators-Seminoles showdown is always big for those in the Sunshine State, but for the first time in more than a decade at the time of their meeting, both teams are ranked in the top 10.

And after No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon both lost a week ago, the Gators moved up to No. 4 in the BCS. The Seminoles are No. 10. The country will be watching to see what happens Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium and what impact that might have on the BCS national championship puzzle.

Like Hunter said, it's a very big game. With the stage set, here are 10 things to watch Saturday:

JEFF DRISKEL

The Gators' starting quarterback missed last week's win over Jacksonville State with a sprained right ankle. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Driskel looked sharp in practice this week and showed no limitations.

The Gators will need Driskel's right arm and legs to help move the ball against the country's top-ranked defense. When Driskel is at his best, he is making plays on the run and getting outside the pocket.

Look for the Seminoles to try and pressure Driskel early to see how he responds to the pressure. Sore ankle or not, Driskel's decision-making and timing in the passing game must be at top speed against the Seminoles' fast defense.

EMERGING STARS

Both teams are stocked with talented players. Which ones will make the kind of difference on Saturday that fans of both schools will remember for years to come?

Could Driskel be the star? What about FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel? Florida running back Mike Gillislee and FSU's James Wilder are both dangerous. Florida safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are game-changers. So are FSU defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine.

There are others who could put their stamp on this game. Who will it be?

UF'S TACKLES VS. FSU'S DEs

The Gators must find a way to slow down Seminoles defensive ends Carradine and Werner. Carradine leads the ACC with 10 1/2 sacks and Werner is second with 9 1/2.

They bring the pressure on nearly every play and Florida's offensive line will be tested, especially on the outside where starting left tackle Xavier Nixon and right tackle Chaz Green will have their hands full. Freshman D.J. Humphries will be counted on as well.

If Nixon and Green can help neutralize FSU's outside rush -- with him from the interior linemen on double teams and chips -- Driskel's life should be much easier.

TURNOVER TOTAL

Florida's most significant advantage over the Seminoles -- at least on paper -- is turnover margin. The Gators are plus-13 this season while the Seminoles are a minus-2.

The Gators turned the ball over four times in last year's loss to FSU and forced only one turnover. Other than in the loss to Georgia when the Gators turned the ball over six times, they have been efficient at ball security and allowed the defense to come up with enough takeaways to make a difference.

Florida will need to rely on a similar plan Saturday. If the Gators win the turnover battle, their chances of winning the game increase significantly.

GATORS' ATTACK

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease is probably getting tired of questions about the offense, especially for a team with a 10-1 record. Still, for much of the second half of the season the Gators have sputtered at times when they have the ball.

Muschamp said they would need to be more consistent to beat FSU.

No one is arguing that point. Pease included. He said this week that the offense remains a work in progress.

In a game like Saturday's, a few big plays could make all the difference. Pease has shown an ability to be creative in his play-calling when needed, most notably in wins at Tennessee and over LSU.

Driskel's dual-threat abilities must be highlighted against a defense as talented as Florida State's because the Gators can't get one-dimensional and allow FSU's defense to unload.

THE IMPACT

Regardless of which team wins Saturday, the game will have implications on the BCS rankings. If the Gators win, they almost certainly lock up a spot in a BCS bowl as one of the top four in the final BCS rankings.

The Gators' standing could improve significantly if Notre Dame loses at USC. Meanwhile, if FSU wins the Seminoles should climb up the BCS ladder and perhaps into a BCS bowl with a win the following week in the ACC Championship Game.

There are a lot of "ifs" to be determined, but what we know already is that there is a lot more than just bragging rights at stake in Saturday's Sunshine Showdown.

E.J. AND HIS FRIENDS

Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is 23-5 as the Seminoles' starter and provides a steady presence. Manuel also has ample help despite the loss of leading rusher Chris Thompson earlier this season.

Wilder, fullback Lonnie Pryor, receivers Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith, and tight end Nick O'Leary can all make plays with Manuel at the controls.

The Gators limited Manuel to six completions and FSU to 95 yards of total offense in last season's 21-7 loss. Whatever they did they might want to try again since few teams have been able to slow the Seminoles down like that in Manuel's career.

DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE

You might have heard this somewhere this week: both teams have great defenses.

FSU is ranked first nationally in overall defense and the Gators fourth. The teams are giving up less than 25 points a game combined -- UF at 11.8 points a game, FSU at 13.1.

Defensive coordinators Dan Quinn and Mark Stoops have battle-tested systems in place and the talented units are executing their plans.

Which one will blink first Saturday is the question. Somebody has to score, right?

GILLISLEE CRACKS 1,000

Gators senior Gillislee is coming off a 122-yard performance against Jacksonville State.

He'll likely find running space more difficult on Saturday, but Gillislee is well within reach of becoming the first UF runner since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Gillislee is 36 yards shy. While both Florida and FSU have had great running backs over the years, 1,000-yard rushers have been rare of late. The Seminoles haven't had one since Warrick Dunn in 1996.

THE FEET GUYS

The chance for points is high each time the Gators and Seminoles line up for field goals.

Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis and FSU's Dustin Hopkins are both finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top placekicker. Meanwhile, Gators punter Kyle Christy is having a magnificent season and played a huge role in several games.

In a game that could be close thanks to two great defenses, don't be surprised if Hopkins or Sturgis factor into the final outcome.

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GATORS GAMEBOX

No. 6 Florida (10-1) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1)

Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Doak Campbell Stadium)

TV: ABC -- Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline)

Internet: WatchESPNESPN3.com

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (click here for affiliates); GatorVision audio; XM 85; Sirius 85

Game notes: Florida; Florida State

Bottom line: The Gators can almost certainly stake claim to a BCS bowl bid with a victory over the Seminoles and perhaps much more. If Florida wins and Notre Dame loses at USC, the Gators could climb into the top two of the BCS rankings.

 

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