TALLAHASSEE (CBSSports) – Just four weeks after suffering its first loss of the season, No. 6 Florida suddenly finds itself back in the national title hunt.
It won’t make a difference, however, unless the Gators can find a way to beat archrival and No. 10 Florida State on Saturday for the first time since Tim Tebow was team captain in 2009.
They might also have do to it with limited use of their banged-up starting quarterback.
While top-ranked Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon suffered devastating defeats last week, Florida (10-1) won its third consecutive game to climb up to fourth in the BCS standings.
Hoping to play in their first national championship game since winning their second title in three seasons in 2008, the Gators need to win and hope a few things break their way. USC beating No. 1 Notre Dame would be a huge help, as would losses by Alabama and Georgia this weekend.
Florida coach Will Muschamp admits it might be a long shot.
“Huge if,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of business Saturday, and really any clutter outside of just focusing on the game doesn’t really matter and to me. Let’s understand what’s at stake and what’s important, and focus on the game.”
Although it remains to be seen if he’ll start, quarterback Jeff Driskel is expected to play against Florida State (10-1) after sitting out last week’s 23-0 win over Jacksonville State.
Driskel, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,324 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, suffered a sprained ankle in the third quarter against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 10.
“He will play in the game,” Muschamp said. “To what degree? Again, the week will determine that on how his health continues to improve.”
If Driskel is limited, Jacoby Brissett could see more action after completing 14 of 22 passes for 154 yards against Jacksonville State.
Either way, Florida will have to figure out how to find an offensive rhythm after averaging 18.3 points over its last four games. That number represents a huge dropoff after it averaged 30.1 points in its first seven games.
A struggling offense could make beating Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked defense a very challenging assignment.
Defensive ends Bjoern Werner (9 1/2 sacks) and Cornellius Carradine (10 1/2 sacks) lead an imposing front for the Seminoles, who lead the country in yards allowed (236.6) and rank fifth in scoring defense (13.1).
Florida State looks to hold an opponent under 100 rushing yards for the sixth time in seven games after limiting Maryland to 34 in a 41-14 win on Saturday.
The Gators also boast one of the nation’s top defenses, ranking third in points (11.7) and fourth in yards (281.0), but will face a difficult test against Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel.
“I think the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win,” Manuel said.
Manuel hasn’t made many this season, throwing for 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He completed 17 of 23 for 144 yards and two scores on Saturday as the Seminoles won their sixth straight to clinch the ACC Atlantic title.
Florida State also got its running game back on track with 237 yards after finishing with minus-15 against Virginia Tech on Nov. 8. Devonta Freeman rushed for a career-high 148 yards and two TDs on 16 carries against Maryland.
If Florida has a slim opportunity to reach the national championship game, Florida State – 10th in the BCS standings – has only a minuscule chance.
“Hey, there are still a lot of things out there to play for,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen these last two or three weeks. A guy loses here, a couple people lose there…”
Florida holds a 33-21-2 edge in the overall series and is 12-11-1 in Tallahassee, but Florida State has won the last two meetings by a combined 52-14 score.
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