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Thursday, November 22, 2012
Five Storylines: FSU vs. Florida

By David M. Hale

The regular season comes to a close Saturday, and Florida State's schedule saved the best for last.

For the first time since 2000, Florida State and Florida will face off while ranked in the top 10, and with both teams likely shut out of the BCS national championship picture, Saturday's game represents something of its own title game to determine the state's champion.

So, as FSU preps for its stiffest competition of the season, here are five key storylines to watch this weekend.

1. Can Florida State earn some respect?

Chalk it up to a perfect bit of rivalry-inspired irony, but after Florida State fans have spent a sizable portion of this season lamenting the overrated status of Florida, they're now counting on a win over those same Gators to provide some legitimacy for FSU's own campaign for national respect. At this point, there's a good case for both sides. The Gators' offense is flawed, but it hasn't stopped them from knocking off three of the top 12 teams in the current BCS standings. FSU has beaten just one -- Clemson -- but a victory over No. 4 Florida would help to quiet critics who have chalked up a 10-1 season to little more than a weak schedule.

2. Which team can run the football?

In last year's ugly 21-7 FSU win, the two teams combined for a dismal 84 yards rushing on 79 carries. Still, this year's game comes with a mandate from both sides to try to run the football once again. Don't expect it to be an easy task. Florida State leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 70 yards per game on the ground. Florida isn't far behind, ranking sixth and allowing just 95 yards per game. Last week's strong showing against Maryland (20th nationally in run defense) may bode well for FSU, however, as Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. combined for 200 yards rushing and three TDs on just 24 carries.

3. Can the senior class add to its legacy?

Saturday will be the final home game for several notable Seminoles seniors, including starters EJ Manuel, Lonnie Pryor, Rodney Smith, Everett Dawkins, Cornellius Carradine, Anthony McCloud, Vince Williams and Dustin Hopkins. The group weathered the storm during the transition from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher and helped transform a 7-6 team in 2009 into a 10-win team (with three to play) in 2012. That legacy can add another crown jewel this week, too. A win would give FSU its first concurrent three-game winning streaks over in-state rivals Miami and Florida in school history.

4. Will the Seminoles' defensive line put on a show for the home crowd?

It's certainly possible that Saturday will mark the final time the home fans will see all four starters on FSU's vaunted defensive line -- which might be one of the best groups in school history. Carradine and Bjoern Werner have combined for 20 sacks this season, the most by a pair of teammates in the nation, and they'll be hungry to add to that total against the Gators. Meanwhile, Florida's offensive line has allowed 32 sacks this season -- the second most in the SEC -- and QB Jeff Driskel is coming back from an injured ankle.

5. What kind of shape will FSU be in when it's over?

Given the heated rivalry, top-10 rankings and BCS implications, there is perhaps more on the line this week for FSU than there will be in either of the next two games -- the ACC championship and, potentially, the Orange Bowl. Players across the board are expecting their most hard-fought, physical contest of the season, and for good reason. So when it's over, what will the Seminoles have left in the tank? Injuries and an emotional letdown could make next week's ACC title game against Georgia Tech far more interesting than it might appear on paper.