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The Presidential election is in the books, but the back and forth bickering hasn't ended - both in our Nation's Capitol and here on Inside the Gators. With a tip of our cap to USA Today political pundits Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, staffers Bryan Holt and Jesse Simonton go back and forth trading barbs, insults and observations about this weekend's Florida vs. Florida State match-up.
Holt: Well, here we are again, Simonton. The last time we did one of these debate things, we played competitive agreement to determine that Florida would beat the pants off Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs. I'm sure Gators fans are thrilled to hear that we're bringing it back in time for this weekend's match-up with the Seminoles of Tallanasty. For the first time since 2001, this game is between two top-10 teams and about more than petty instate bragging rights that make family gatherings awkward and spark bathroom fights at Florida middle schools. The Gators could be one win and a Notre Dame loss away from playing for a national title one season after going 7-6. Things haven't been bright or "sexy" for Florida since losing to Georgia, but that doesn't change the fact the Gators are 10-1. People are sleeping on Florida's chances in this game because of it, and I have a feeling those people are wrong.
Simonton: Feelings don't win football games, points do. I hear ya' on Florida's national disrespect, although I think it's being a tad overplayed, and I absolutely acknowledge the Gators have more than a punchers chance against the Seminoles; but I simply believe the collective queasiness of this Florida team is not unfounded. The Gators play down to their competition, no argument there. But ever since Jarvis Jones went HAM in Jacksonville, the team hasn't been the same. The Gators have regressed offensively, and now face the nation's top-ranked defense on the road. Much to fans' chagrin, there's no illusion here. Brent Pease hasn't been holding back the arsenal just for FSU. Unpopular opinion alert: The Gators struggle to block most opponents' front-four -- you know, including those powerhouse bookends from Louisiana-Lafayette! For Florida to win this game it needs a repeat performance of the South Carolina blowout -- a dominant defensive performance combined with another turnover-bonanza with the offense punting on every first down not inside the redzone. Win with this strategy, and everyone will call this Will Muschamp's A Rope-a-Doak.
Holt: It's a repetitive point, but this has been a repetitive season. Yes, everything is stacked against a Florida offense that has looked woefully ineffective the past few weeks -- even more ineffective than it was while building a 7-0 record. But guess what? It doesn't really matter. Neither Florida nor Florida State is going to win Saturday's slugfest because of offensive prowess. Saturday is about the same things this whole season has been about for the Gators. Florida's offense simply needs to not lose the game. This team would be No. 1 in the nation and cruising to an SEC title game appearance if it wasn't for six turnovers in Jacksonville. The Gators might not light up any scoreboards Saturday, but as long as they don't make any crucial mistakes, they'll do enough on defense to beat a Seminoles team that has been playing flag football for the majority of the season.
Simonton: The ACC landscape is a lot like Intramurals, but even then, this ain't soccer, someone has to score to win. If Coach Muschamp truly believes in the Parcells' mantra -- "You are what your record says you are" -- then the "what if's?" from UF's ghastly performance in Jacksonville have no bearing on Saturday's contest. When you breakdown each team's strengths, I see: Offense: Edge to FSU. Defense: Slight edge to UF. Special teams: Push. Considering neither team is exactly lighting the world on fire right now but the Seminoles are playing at home, I think they'll clip the Gators in an ugly affair, ending UF's championship aspirations. Tell me where I'm wrong. The single supreme factor in Florida's favor is turnover margin, so I'll concede that point from the start. Go.
Holt: You start out right before straying wrong. FSU has an advantage over Florida on offense, but I don't think it's a big enough advantage to put a dent in a Gators defense that I fully expect to dominate. Aside from the one big play against Georgia, Florida's defense has played these big games with an undeniable fire. In four games against teams currently ranked in the top 25, the Gators have only given up 300 yards of total offense once -- against Texas A&M, the nation's No. 5 offense -- and has given up no more than 17 points. Florida State's defense is good, but you can't avoid the turnover argument just by ruling it out. Both defenses will have to force turnovers that make life easier for their respective offenses if they want points scored. FSU is minus-1 in turnover margin, while Florida is plus-13. That will tell the story of this game.
Simonton: It could, but so could penalties (two teams are actually close, UF is 95th and FSU is 85th in the nation… aka, undisciplined), pass protection (huge disparity, Gators have allowed 11 more sacks on 99 fewer attempts) and 3rd down conversions (another big FSU advantage). You dabbled in the 'what if game' earlier, so I'll join you. Check out this stat: When you take a look at the Seminoles' turnover margin, luck has played a significant role in their negative edge. Florida State has lost 13 of 18 fumbles. Conversely, Florida has lost just eight of 17 fumbles. Flip the results and suddenly UF's considerable advantage disappears (see: UGA loss). Look, I think the -7-point spread is ridiculous. If this game were in the Swamp there's no way FSU would be favored by a field goal, but it's in Doak, the teams are quite even and while I know the Gators are still wearing the same jerseys, this isn't the team that whipped LSU.
Holt: For the past four weeks, you're right: These aren't the same Gators that physically dominated Crazy Les' Tigers. I've written about that and I agree with it. I'm not convinced that Florida's regression is a permanent one. It's totally possible that Brent Pease has thrown everything he has against the wall to coach around leading an offense with a serious talent deficiency, but I'm not buying it until I see it in a big game. The Gators have out-coached the opposition in every big game they have played this season, an 84-turnover performance at Shahid Khan Field giving them their only blemish in those games. Plenty of offense coordinators would shrug their shoulders at this point and wait until the recruiting process gives them actual playmakers, but I see Pease putting together an efficient game plan Saturday and that's all the Gators need. In the end, the hype of this game may be a throwback to the '90s, but the game itself will be a throwback to a much earlier time. Points will be few and far between, but I say Florida wins 10-6 in a game that summarizes what it has been all season.
Simonton: Can this team regain its spark? Maybe, I just have some serious doubts. If I knew the Florida team that dropped three top-15 BCS schools earlier in the season would show up, there'd be little question. But I don't. The Gators' "lack of sexiness," is a fun story with a great one liner via Muschamp, but all it does is excuse the team's true deficiencies. The irony here is I have little faith in FSU, but simply less in Florida. Yes UF's defense is really good, but lets not act like it's the '85 Bears. With two very similar teams, I think the game is going to come down to offensive line play and the Gators' banged-up unit may once again have its hands full facing another set of powerful edge rushers. I see you on the throwback game, only you don't have to search very far (see: 2011). FSU wins 10-9. First downs are again optional.