Tampa Bay Sports Day

BEAIRD: Gators, ‘Noles Close Out Season as Doak Campbell

Sports Day college football columnist Brent Beard previews the final weekend of the regular season.

FLORIDA (8-2) AT FLORIDA STATE (8-3): Florida has a 34-24-2 all-time record against the Seminoles. Prior to last season when No. 13-ranked FSU topped No. 12 UF, there had been no upsets in this rivalry over the previous 10 seasons, as the higher ranked team won each of those games. Florida State has won three straight in the series against the Gators and five of the last six meetings

UF has clinched its second-straight SEC Eastern Division Title and has won back-to-back Eastern Division Titles for the first time since 2008 and 2009. Gator coach Jim McElwain is the first coach in league history to reach the SEC Championship in his first two seasons as a head coach.

UF leads the SEC in passing defense (160.0), team passing efficiency defense (95.04) and ranks second in total defense (282.4) and scoring defense (13.0).

The UF defense stuffed LSU tailback Derrius Guice on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line as time expired Saturday. Tailback Jordan Scarlett rushed 22 times for 108 yards, quarterback Austin Appleby threw a 98-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Tyrie Cleveland and Eddy Pineiro kicked three field goals.

Florida, Alabama and Michigan are the only three teams in the country to hold four FBS opponents under 200 total yards passing this season. Florida’s defense has held its opponents to a 31% conversion rate on third down, which ranks second in the league and 15th in the nation.

Through 10 games, UF has played 14 true freshmen and 22 newcomers. UF has the third-fewest seniors in the country with 15

Florida linebacker David Reese, a true freshman has 43 tackles on the season, including two tackles for loss. He had 12 tackles against LSU.

FSU: IF FSU beats Florida the Noles’ seniors will be 8-0 against Miami and the Gators. A four-game sweep of both rivals has never happened before

Last week, the Seminoles beat Syracuse, 45-14, with running back Dalvin Cook gaining 225 yards and four touchdowns as he became the school’s all-time leading rusher. Cook has rushed for 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. In seven of the last eight games, he has gone for more than 100 yards on the ground. Doing that against a Gators defense that is No. 20 in the nation, allowing just 122.10 yards per game, will be tough.

Florida State is No. 1 in the ACC and the country in sacks per game (3.73), while the Gators are No. 2 in the SEC in sacks allowed per game (1.50). In scoring defense, Florida is No. 3 nationally, allowing just 13 points per game. FSU is No. 48 allowing 25.5 PPG.

Regarding opponents’ punt return average, the ‘Noles have allowed an average of 23.17 yards per return which is No. 125 nationally. Florida, on the other hand, allows 7.14 YPR.

This game is tough to call. Look for Florida’s defensive line to dominate the FSU offensive line enough for the Gators to win with their kicking game.

UCF (6-5) AT USF (9-2): Last week, UCF lost 35-20 to Tulsa. The Knight’s running game gained only 88 yards. Quarterback McKenzie Milton has thrown for 1,583 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He faces a USF defense that is No. 120 nationally in total defense, allowing 489.4 yards per game. UCF is struggling running the ball averaging 159.91 yards per game.

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers has amassed 3,672 yards of total offense and 35 total touchdowns this season. Running back Marlon Mack has rushed for 982 yards and 13 touchdowns. Defense is the problem for the Bulls allowing 31.0 points per game.

Last week, USF beat SMU 35-27. Flowers accounted for 337 yards of total offense while throwing for three touchdowns in the win. It’s going to be hard for UCF, who has rebounded with a fine season after going winless last year, to limit Flowers, who should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

DUKE (4-7) AT MIAMI (7-4): The Hurricanes beat N C State last week 27-13. Mark Walton, who scored three times, gained 120 yards to put him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season.

Miami receiver Ahmmon Richards, who had nine catches for 117 yards against the Wolfpack, broke the single-season freshman receiving record (840 yards) set by Michael Irvin in 1985. Quarterback Brad Kaaya has become just the second quarterback to throw for more than 9,000 yards in his career at Miami.

Last week, Duke lost to Pitt 56-14 one week after pulling off a 28-27 upset of North Carolina to claim its first ACC win of the year. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones completed 28 of 46 for 248 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked five times. Jones, a redshirt freshman, has thrown for 2,520 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions and rushed for 421 yards and seven scores.

Duke is also looking for revenge after losing the “eight laterals on the kickoff” game last season. The ACC ended up suspending officials for two games following a series of officiating errors during that ‘Canes return. The reality here is Miami is playing too well currently to be stopped by Duke. Miami wins and ends up with an eight win season.

Brent Beaird is a sports writer for Gator Bait magazine and the Clay Sun edition of the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville, Florida. Brent, who is also a Heisman Trophy voter, is the college football analyst for First Coast News TV (ABC/NBC) in Jacksonville. Brent is also featured on 1010XL sports radio in Jacksonville, Fla.