At least for the time being, Florida can forget about the SEC and focus on keeping their national title hopes alive.
That is not expected to be a problem for the third-ranked Gators on Saturday when they wrap up their home schedule with a matchup against Division I-AA Western Carolina.
Florida (9-1) already has wrapped up the SEC Eastern Division title, and will play in the conference championship game on Dec. 2. Fifth-ranked Arkansas, which also has only one loss, can clinch the West on Saturday with a win over Mississippi State.
The Gators, who visit non-conference rival Florida State in their regular-season finale on Nov. 25, also have put themselves in good position to claim a spot in the BCS national championship game. Florida is ranked fourth in the BCS standings, and is nearly even with No. 3 Southern California.
The winner of Saturday’s game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan will likely earn one spot in the title game, and Florida likes its chances of grabbing the other.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll be in Arizona,” said defensive end Jarvis Moss, referring to the site of the BCS championship matchup.
The Gators kept their title hopes alive with a 17-16 victory Saturday over South Carolina and former coach Steve Spurrier. Moss blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt as time expired and an extra-point attempt earlier in the fourth quarter.
“It felt good not to let the guys down,” said Moss, who also had a career-best eight tackles and was named the SEC special teams player of the week. “I think we’ve got something special going on.”
Defensive tackle Ray McDonald also blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt in the first half for Florida, which won its 14th straight at The Swamp.
“You’ve got to find a way to win football games,” defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. “We found a way.”
Quarterback Chris Leak completed 19 of 27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown after averaging just 166 yards in his previous four games, a stretch during which he had three TDs and six interceptions. Even though he threw one pick and was sacked twice, coach Urban Meyer called Saturday’s performance Leak’s best in two seasons.
Fellow quarterback Tim Tebow did not complete either of his two pass attempts, but picked up his fifth rushing touchdown of the season.
“Just win the next game,” Meyer said. “No, I have no concern over (style points). I guess I probably should because that might affect standings, and human element involved in all this BCS stuff.”
Linebacker Brandon Siler, who is second on the team with 57 tackles and nine tackles for a loss, is “very questionable” for Saturday’s game with a partially torn ligament in his left knee. He played against the Gamecocks despite also being “very questionable” for that contest.
“He talked us into it, and he didn’t play very well,” said Meyer, who added that he did not make the injury worse by playing. “That was probably a mistake, but it’s hard to keep a tough guy like that out of the lineup.”
The Catamounts (2-8) have dropped eight in a row, including Saturday’s 31-9 loss to Appalachian State, the top-ranked team in I-AA.
Darius Fudge, who ranks third in the Southern Conference with 95.7 rushing yards per game, picked up just 53 on 22 carries for Western Carolina, which is mired in its longest losing streak since ending the 1956 season with nine straight defeats.
Quarterback Bennett Swygert completed 7 of 16 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. The Catamounts, who went winless in the conference for the first time since joining the league in 1977, have managed only 16 points over their last three games.
Western Carolina and Florida are meeting for the first time.