|College Football: Florida at South Carolina Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Wednesday, 07 November 2007 11:47|
Despite having three losses, Florida is right in the thick of the crowded SEC East race. In order to stay there, the Gators will have to beat a team coached by a very familiar face.
The No. 17 Gators (6-3, 4-3) travel to South Carolina on Saturday to face former Florida coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4), which have lost three straight after climbing as high as No. 6 in the AP poll.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Florida –6.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 82% of bets for this game have been placed on Florida –6.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Spurrier built Florida into one of the country's top programs during his 12 years in Gainesville, leading the Gators to five victories in seven SEC championship games and their first national title in 1996. He's returned to the SEC after a two-year stint with the Washington Redskins, having taken over a lower-profile football school - much like Florida was when the Ol' Ballcoach arrived in Gainesville.
"There are a lot of things that make his team so good," current Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "The thing I'm impressed with is all three phases of their game are solid. I think that's what makes him a good coach."
Of course, since Meyer has arrived at Florida, things have gone fairly well for him, too. The former coach at Utah and Bowling Green is 28-7 since taking over for Ron Zook in 2005 and led the Gators to the national championship last year. He's the seventh head coach in NCAA history to win a championship in his first or second year with a school.
There will be no repeat for the Gators in 2007, due in large part to a young defense that lost 10 of its top 12 tacklers from last season. Florida has been particularly vulnerable in pass defense, allowing 241.7 yards per game through the air - third-worst in the SEC.
The offense continues to be well-run by Tim Tebow. The sophomore quarterback, used primarily as a power running threat in place of Chris Leak during Florida's championship season, has showed off his strong arm in 2007. He ranks second in the conference in passing yards and touchdowns, and leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns with 14 - two more than Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
Tebow tops the SEC in total offense with 314 yards per game.
``He's made some unbelievable plays when they're not open and guys hanging all over him and this, that and the other,'' Spurrier said. ``So, he's, sort of, the quarterback of the future. ... Or the quarterback of today. I should say that - today.''
Florida had lost three of four before last Saturday's visit from Vanderbilt. Though the Commodores came in ranked 14th in the country on defense, Tebow threw for 281 yards and scored five touchdowns.
Andre Caldwell caught two of Tebow's three TD passes and finished with 103 yards receiving.
"We're going to ride those horses now,'' Meyer said. "It's down to one game now. We're in November and in a fight for our lives in the SEC, and you do what you've got to do to move the ball.''
The Gators, who close out their conference schedule Saturday, trail first-place Georgia by a half-game in the division. The Bulldogs have two SEC games left, against No. 18 Auburn at No. 24 Kentucky.
With two wins over top 15 teams before mid-October, it looked as if South Carolina might be on its way to its first appearance in the SEC title game since joining the conference in 1992. But a surprising home loss to Vanderbilt was followed by consecutive road defeats at Tennessee and Arkansas - the latter of which saw the Gamecocks give up a school-record 541 yards on the ground, including an SEC record 323 from McFadden.
"Obviously it was a mismatch ...,'' Spurrier said. "Looked like a Division III team trying to play an SEC team. Or maybe a Division III team could have slowed them down a little bit better than we could.''
South Carolina beat Florida for the first time since 1939 when the Gators visited Columbia on Nov. 12, 2005 - the first time Meyer and Spurrier faced each other. Florida evened the coaches' head-to-head series last year when defensive end Jarvis Moss blocked a Ryan Succop field-goal attempt as time expired, giving the Gators a 17-16 victory and preserving their national title hopes.
"That is what set the tone for the rest of the year that allowed us to get to the national championship," Florida receiver Jarred Fayson said. "Coach Spurrier knows what he is doing on offense so we just have to hang tight and play tough."
Spurrier has lost four games in a row only once in his career as a college coach, in 1987 - his first year at Duke.
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