According to Urban Meyer, all that should stand in Florida’s way of playing Ohio State for the national championship are Florida State and Arkansas.
Not Michigan, Southern California or Notre Dame.
Before they can worry about the SEC championship game or how the BCS comes out, the fourth-ranked Gators (10-1) must win on the road against their biggest non-conference rival to stay in the national title picture as they face the Seminoles (6-5) on Saturday.
Meyer feels his Gators have the inside track to a berth in the BCS championship game, as long as they beat Florida State and knock off No. 5 Arkansas in the SEC title game next Saturday.
The BCS standings, however, don’t reflect Meyer’s opinion. Michigan is currently on pace for a rematch with Ohio State despite its 42-39 loss to the top-ranked Buckeyes last Saturday, with the Wolverines remaining No. 2 behind the Buckeyes this week. USC is a close third and Florida isn’t far behind in the fourth spot.
“We’ve just got to take care of our business. Do I believe that the SEC should be in it? Absolutely,” Meyer said of the BCS title game. “I would say that if it were up to the 117 Division I-A coaches, certainly it would not be a rematch. But I don’t believe it’s up to them. So we’ll find out.”
Meyer believes Notre Dame, fifth in the BCS standings, would not deserve to face Ohio State for the title because of its 47-21 home loss to Michigan two months ago. As for USC, Meyer points to the Trojans’ loss to unranked Oregon State as the reason why Florida is more worthy of playing the Buckeyes, considering the Gators’ only loss came on the road to then-No. 11 Auburn on Oct. 14.
Notre Dame plays at USC on Saturday.
“So I think when you look at all that, there’s two schools out there that probably can go ahead and say, ‘OK, we deserve a shot. Here’s our schedule. We played a difficult schedule,”’ Meyer said.
“I think USC and Florida are the two teams that, if they take care of business, deserve a shot.”
Despite what potentially lies ahead for the Gators, it would be hard to imagine them looking past this game despite the Seminoles winding down a disappointing season after being ranked as high as No. 9 in September.
If Florida can post its third straight win in the series, Florida State will finish a regular season without a winning record for the first time since Bobby Bowden’s first season as coach in 1976.
“Somewhere along the line this football program has to turn it around,” Bowden said. “We need a defining moment. This game could always be one.”
Florida’s defense, though, heads into this game in much better shape than may have been expected.
Starting linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett are likely to play after sitting out last week’s 62-0 win over Division I-AA Western Carolina. Siler (knee) says he is at about 90 percent, and Everett is about fully recovered from an ankle injury.
Defensive end Jarvis Moss, who has 4 1/2 sacks, should be in the starting lineup after being reinstated following a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Plus, leading receiver Dallas Baker is expected to play despite spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in last Saturday’s win.
Florida ranks 11th nationally in total defense by allowing 268.0 yards per game, only one yard better than Florida State. The Gators, however, are fifth in the country in points allowed at 12.1 per game, about a touchdown less than what the Seminoles are surrendering.
The Gators defense will try to make it another tough day for Drew Weatherford. Bowden announced Weatherford will start despite completing only 11 of 31 passes for 127 yards and no touchdowns over the past three games.
Backup Xavier Lee does not have nearly as much experience but has been the better quarterback, completing 55.2 percent for 676 yards with five TDs in his last four games.
“We felt like, really, that Lee performs better when he comes in off the bench,” Bowden said. “That was probably one of the biggest factors. I’m sure he’ll play.”
Florida is also likely to use two quarterbacks, with Chris Leak making most of the throws and Tim Tebow used more for his rushing ability in Meyer’s spread-option offense.
Tebow had his best game of the season last week as he was given more of a chance to throw in a blowout game against an inferior opponent. He went 10-of-12 for 200 yards with two touchdowns, and ran for two more scores with 47 yards on six carries.
Leak has been solid lately, going 46-of-64 for 591 yards with three TDs over the past three games. Last week marked only the second game this season in which he hasn’t thrown an interception.
“Anytime Florida and Florida State come together, most of the teams have a lot to play for just through the rivalry and the tradition of the game,” Leak said. “Looking back, when I was growing up and just watching the rivalry back then, it was always a huge game regardless of records.”