Tampa Bay Sports Day

BEAIRD: Stakes are High in Tallahassee and Jacksonville

Sports Day college football columnist Brent Beaird preview this weekend’s upcoming games.

FLORIDA (5-1) VS GEORGIA (4-3): This is the greatest week every year in the city of Jacksonville. Nothing even comes close. In this year’s game there are high stakes. Florida wants to continue its trek toward a second divisional title. Georgia wants to salvage a once promising season with a win over perhaps its most bitter rival. If rookie coach Kirby Smart can beat the Gators along with Auburn and Georgia Tech, Bulldog fans will sleep much better this winter.

The key for the Bulldogs, averaging a shade under 200 yards per game, is to be able to run the ball against a stout Gator rush defense allowing only 119 ypg. Florida coach Jim McElwain said quarterback Luke Del Rio has improved his mechanics which hopefully will cut down on his interceptions after he threw three in the Missouri win. The Gators experience on its coaching staff should proved beneficial as the Gators notch an important win on its road to Atlanta.

CLEMSON AT FLORIDA STATE: There are high stakes in this game as Clemson tries to clear a major hurdle on its way to a possible conference title and another trip to the Final Four. FSU wants this win for a more prestigious bowl game and another 10- win season.

The Seminole offensive line has to protect quarterback Deondre Francois. FSU has allowed 21 quarterback sacks this season compared to only seven for Clemson. If tailback Dalvin Cook gains 100 yards he will become only the seventh player in ACC history to gain at least 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Cook will be facing a Clemson defense ranked in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense. Clemson, despite its struggles this season, has the experience of winning close games which will pay dividends in a win over the Noles.

MIAMI (4-3) AT NOTRE DAME (2-5): Its hard to imagine this game between what used to be two top ten teams meaning little if anything in the college football world. Notre Dame and Miami are both on a free fall. The Canes have lost three straight games and the Irish have lost four- of- five. The Irish had a bye last weekend. In its last game, Notre Dame lost 17-10 to Stanford. The Cane’s lost to Virginia Tech last Thursday. The Hokie defense had eight sacks on quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.

Kelly replaced Kizer with Malik Zaire for three possessions. The results were no better. Kizer will start this week, but Zaire or even Brandon Wimbush could see action. The Hurricanes are averaging 414.4 total yards per game compared to 413.9 for the Irish. The ‘Canes are giving up 343.4 yards per game compared to 399.9 for the Irish. The week off likely allows the Irish to get a much needed win while the Cane misery continues.

NAVY (5-1) AT SOUTH FLORIDA (6-2): Navy came off an unscheduled bye week and pounded Memphis in a 42-28 victory. Quarterback Will Worth rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing for two more scores. South Florida was upset by Temple in a game where the Owls contained Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers to 277 yards of total offense and three scores.

Navy’s triple-option attack is averaging 293.17 yards per game on the ground, good for No. 4 in the nation. The defense will focus on Flowers, who has thrown and run for a combined 23 touchdowns so far this season. Navy does allow 404 per game. Navy’s running game and confidence gained over the season will serve them well as they get a big win on the road.

UCF (4-3) AT HOUSTON (6-2): UCF pulled off a 24-16 come-from-behind victory during UConn’s homecoming. Quarterback Mckenzie Milton, a freshman, played threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions

The Cougars have struggled after losses to Navy and SMU. In the SMU loss, the rushing attack gained only 62 yards. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. gained only three yards on 17 carries. UCF is allowing just 133 yards per game rushing. Look for Houston to get refocused after the upsets to Navy and SMU and relentless rumors about coach Tom Herman going to another school.

FIU (3-5) HOSTS MIDDLE TENNESSEE (5-2): FIU felt short of winning its fourth straight Conference USA game, losing to Louisiana Tech 44-24 at Ocean Bank Field on Saturday. The loss snapped FIU’s three game winning streak. Panthers quarterback Alex McGough was 25 of 44 for 281 yards and three touchdowns. McGough became the Panthers all-time career leader in touchdown passes with 43 surpassing Josh Patrick (2002-06). FIU senior tight end Jonnu Smith extended his streak of 40 consecutive games with a reception with a 10-yard catch in the second quarter. He entered the game tied for the sixth longest streak in the nation.

The Blue Raiders came up with a 51-45 upset of Missouri Quarterback Brent Stockstill was 23 of 41 passing for 280 yards and four touchdowns, and he added 70 yards on seven carries. The Blue Raiders gained 584 yards of offense, including 300 rushing yards. MTSU allows 429.0 yards per game, but they put up an average of 548.9 yards per game. Former Ole Miss running back I’Tavius Mathers rushed 28 times for 215 yards and a touchdown, and caught eight passes for 48 yards and a score. MTSU will likely become bowl eligible this week.