Tampa Bay Sports Day

BEAIRD: Gators Can Wrap Up SEC East with Win

Sports Day college football columnist Brent Beaird previews this weekend’s games.
FLORIDA AT LSU: The Gators have an incredible opportunity to get to Atlanta by beating LSU. Coach Jim McElwain and his team have once again been able to take advantage of a weak eastern division in order to set themselves up for a defacto playoff game.The biggest question here is can Florida block LSU? They can play seven-on-seven football with South Carolina and Georgia, but LSU forces teams to play in a phone booth meaning they disrupt offenses at the point of attack.

This will be a low scoring game, at least for the Gators, because the Tigers have not allowed any teams to score more than 21 points on them. Frankly, the star of the Tiger coaching staff is defensive coordinator Dave Aranda who has done a masterful job in his first season.

Florida has basically half a dozen starters out for the game. This will especially hurt on defense as the Gators try to stop the LSU running attack led by Leonard Fournette. Florida needs to control field position and get ahead early to win the game. It’s hard to see any other outcome except LSU winning by controlling the line of scrimmage.

FLORIDA STATE (7-3) AT SYRACUSE (4-6): NOLA.com reported this week that Jimbo Fisher one of the top candidates for the LSU job. The report says Fisher’s buyout of $5 million before Dec. 31. It drops to 3$ after the first of the year. My take on this is Fisher’s agent Jimmy Sexton is trying to leverage more control of the football operations for Fisher. He wants to have more input into staff and scheduling issues.

FSU should be able to score plenty on Syracuse. The Seminoles are averaging 465.1 yards per game while Syracuse is allowing 471.5 yards per game.

The Seminoles put together their best performance in conference play of the season last week in a home win over Boston College. FSU took control by scoring on its first two drives and led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter of an eventual 45-7 victory

The number of rushing yards needed by Florida State junior running back Dalvin Cook to top 4,000 career yards is 59. Six players in ACC history have gained 4,000 total year, but only Cook would have done so in just three seasons.

SYRACUSE: The Orange managed to gain only 218 total yards in a 35-20 home loss to NC State last Saturday. They rushed for only 28 yards and threw for 190 yards without sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey, who was hit in the head/shoulder area during the first quarter of a 54-0 loss to Clemson the previous week. Junior Zack Mahoney was 13 of 24 passing for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the start. This should be an easy win for FSU.

MIAMI (6-4) T NC STATE (5-5): The Hurricanes had a 34-14 win over Virginia last week as Brad Kaaya threw two touchdown passes and Mark Walton ran for 111 yards. Miami rushed for 222 yards and passed for 228. The Hurricanes sacked Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert five times last week, including a strip sack by Corn Elder that Joe Jackson recovered.

N C State seeks bowl eligibility as it meets the Hurricanes for the first time since 2012 and the first time in Raleigh since 2008. The Wolfpack won at Syracuse last week by limited the ‘Cuse to 218 total yards in a 35-20 win. Running back Matt Dayes gained 108 yards.

TULSA (7-3) AT UCF (6-4): The Knights reached six wins under first-year head coach Scott Frost last Saturday with a 24-3 victory against Cincinnati. UCF was 0-12 last season after posting a 31-9 combined record from 2012-14 under coach George O’Leary. Since losing 26-25 to Temple on Oct. 15, the Knights have gone 3-1 and allowed 14.0 points per game during that stretch. One problem for the Knights is offense. UCF is No. 106 nationally in offense.

TULSA: Navy beat Tulsa last week to gain an edge to winning the West and playing in the conference championship game. Tulsa ran 103 plays against SMU. Tulsa senior quarterback Dane Evans is the school’s career passing leader, surpassing the 3,000 passing yards mark during 14 games. Against Tulsa, Navy led 28-27 at the end of the third quarter before the teams combined for four touchdowns in the fourth.

For the first time this season, Tulsa lost despite scoring at least 40 points. Under coach Philip Montgomery, the Hurricane has reached the 40-point mark in 15 of 23 games and the 500-yard mark in 14 games. Tulsa is averaging 518.5 yards per game this year. Tulsa senior receiver Keevan Lucas ranks in the top five in program history in four receiving categories. He is close to breaking records set by Howard Twilley in 1963-65 and Steve Largent (1973-75). Tulsa senior receiver Josh Atkinson, who also ranks on the Tulsa career top-10, has 2,412 career receiving yards along with 12 touchdowns.

SOUTH FLORIDA (8-2) AT SMU (5-5): USF earned a 49-42 road win against Memphis last week. USF, averaging 44 points per game, has already set a new school record for touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers has thrown for 19 passing touchdowns and ran for 13 more. Flowers became the first quarterback from an FBS program in the state of Florida to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. He also became the first player in USF history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season:

Running back Marlon Mack has rushed for 853 yards and 12 touchdowns so far this season. The Bull defense allows 480.5 yards per game, which puts it at No. 118 in the nation in total defense.

A loss to Temple could end up keeping the Bulls out of the AAC title game, even if USF wins out and posts the first 10-win season in school history. Despite their only other loss coming against Florida State, the Bulls have yet to make the top 25.

SMU is coming off a 55-31 win over ECU. Quarterback Ben Hicks threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns while both Ke’Mon Freeman and Braeden West went over the 100-yard mark on the ground. SMU has averaged just 27.4 points per game. Flowers should lead the Bulls to another win Saturday.

FIU (3-7): Butch Davis, 65, was hired Monday as the new football coach at Florida International University, agreeing to a five-year contract. Ron Cooper, who has gone 3-3 as FIU’s interim coach, will remain in place for the final two games of this season. Davis has the potential to turn FIU into a winner.

Brent Beaird has been a sportswriter and broadcaster since the early 1990s. He writes for Gator Bait magazine, the Clay Sun edition of the Florida Times Union and Inside The Game Magazine. Brent, who is a Heisman Trophy voter, is a part of the 1010XL sports radio team in Jacksonville. He is also a college football analyst for First Coast News and does a regular feature on Wednesday night on the ABC broadcast.