Florida weathered the storm of a tenacious second half start by Florida State, rallying from a 20-13 with 24 unanswered points to win, 37-26. With the victory, the Gators move to 11-1 and lock up a BCS bowl bid. All that is left for Florida to discover is which BCS bowl.
The Sugar Bowl is home to SEC teams in the Bowl Championship Series, but Will Muschamp and co. would rather stay in the Sunshine State. Ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, Florida has a spot in the national championship game within its reach. The Gators will actually benefit from not playing in the SEC championship — one of either Georgia or Alabama is guaranteed to lose next week, assuring that the idle Florida will bypass one in the rankings.
Florida also needs Notre Dame to lose tonight when it squares off with longtime rival USC. Undoubtedly, Gator Nation will be glued to the television and cheering heartily for a coach once (and still) reviled in that part of the country, Lane Kiffin.
Reaching the BCS championship game without having to clear that Alabama hurdle, unlike Florida rival Georgia, might seem like a backdoor to the crystal ball. And indeed, in some way it is. However, Florida has an impressive resume to its credit and today’s performance was its best.
The defense was outstanding when it needed to be, as has almost always been the case for UF this season. The Gators picked off Seminole quarterback EJ Manuel three times and recovered two fumbles. Those turnovers proved critical, because the UF offense capitalized in a big way.
While the Gator defense and special teams compensated for pedestrian offensive production in key wins over Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina, the offense was clicking against Florida State’s celebrated defensive 11.
Bjoern Werner provided effective pressure for the Seminoles, particularly during a 20-0 run that propelled FSU into the lead. However, the Gator line adjusted late, providing opportunities for the Florida play makers. And no one made plays quite like Mike Gillislee and Matt Jones.
The duo combined for three touchdowns and 221 of the Gators’ 244 rushing yards. Jones delivered the knockout via his 32-yard end zone jaunt with 2:33 remaining.
At that moment, you could almost hear the collective gulp emanating from much of the college football-watching nation. Jones’ several steps to the end zone made for one big step toward two SEC teams in the BCS championship game. Again.
Florida certainly responded to Florida State like a team worthy of it. Beyond Jones and Gillislee, the offense also a very solid outing from quarterback Jeff Driskell. The sophomore went 15-23, and his touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar pushed the Seminoles to arm’s length. Had the Gator offense clicked like this all season, Florida wouldn’t need help from USC tonight.
And even so, the only time its offensive inconsistency cost Florida was in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Though Florida didn’t get a crack at Alabama and the Crimson Tide is the current benchmark for SEC football, one would have to believe the Gators would love a shot at retribution against their greatest conference rivals.