Looking forward to real, live football, NoleNation takes a run through Florida State’s 2012 schedule, going game-by-game to find the best storylines and matchups of the upcoming season.
Saturday, Nov. 24: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee
2011 record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC). It was a tough debut season for Will Muschamp, as the Gators suffered their first six-loss season since 1987 and their first losing season in SEC play since 1979. Making matters worse, they dropped their second straight to in-state rival FSU, 21-7. Florida was 0-6 against FBS teams that finished the 2011 season with a winning record.
Coach: Muschamp (7-6, second season)
Series record: 57th meeting, Florida leads 33-21-2.
Players to watch: Andre Dubose (WR, Jr.) had 16 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns last season; Mike Gillislee (RB, Sr.) averaged 5.9 yards per carry in a reserve role last season; Jon Bostic (LB, Sr.) had 94 tackles including 10 for a loss in 2011; Matt Elam (S, Jr.) racked up 11 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last season.
Reviving the rivalry. Florida State has won its last two meetings with the Gators, which comes with its share of bragging rights. The Seminoles haven't taken three straight against their in-state rivals since 1998-2000. Moreover, a win here could potentially give FSU a rare in-state feat: wins over South Florida, Miami and Florida in the same year.
Closing out the regular season. As always, this rivalry game marks the end of the regular season, and for FSU it will likely mean one of two things: A final tune-up for the ACC championship game or the beginning of what could be a chaotic offseason. If Florida State is in position to win an ACC championship, a win over Florida would be icing on the cake. If they're not, Jimbo Fisher may need to beat the Gators handily to have any shot at soothing what will no doubt be a very unhappy fan base.
Saying goodbye. If all goes well, Florida State will still have two more games to play before their season comes to a close, but this will mark the final home game in the careers of seniors like EJ Manuel, Brandon Jenkins and Dustin Hopkins, and it could be the final curtain call at Doak Campbell for juniors like Lamarcus Joyner and Xavier Rhodes, who could head to the NFL early. Fans hope to get the chance to watch them in a conference championship game, of course, but this one represents the last chance for the FSU faithful to show their appreciation on their home turf.
Fun fact: In Oliver Stone's film "The Doors," Jim Morrison was said to have attended the University of Florida. In reality, Morrison, who was born in Melbourne, Fla., attended Florida State.
Key matchup: FSU's running backs vs. Florida's front seven. The Gators weren't exactly stout against the run last season, finishing fifth in the SEC at 131 yards per game. But that didn't stop them from dominating FSU's ground game, holding the Seminoles to just 30 yards rushing. And yet, it was Devonta Freeman's two touchdowns on the ground that proved to be the difference in the game, which should provide FSU with some hope. Add an improved offensive line for Florida State and the likely loss of defensive end Ronald Powell for the season with a torn ACL for Florida, and the matchup could look a good bit different this time around.
Florida will win if: It protects the football. Here are the numbers from last year's game: Seven first downs, 95 yards of total offense, 2-of-15 on third-down conversions. No, those aren't the Gators' numbers. That's what Florida State mustered in a winning effort. How'd they manage to pull it off? Well, start with the four turnovers committed by Florida, including three that FSU turned into touchdowns. The impressive defensive performance should give Florida plenty of hope entering this year's contest, but if they can't limit the mistakes on offense, there's little reason to believe the final score will favor the Gators any more this time around.
Noles will win if: The offensive line has drastically improved from last year. Manuel was sacked four times in last year's matchup and didn't complete a pass longer than 14 yards. The running game was disastrous, aside from Freeman's two short touchdown runs. It was perhaps the ugliest performance by the line in a season defined, in large part, by struggles in the trenches. In fact, the problems were so immense that it caused Fisher to shuffle his line for the bowl game, and the results were dramatically improved.