Florida hasn’t had an easy time remaining undefeated of late, but it’s been enough to keep the Gators in prime position for a run at a second consecutive national championship and third title in four years.
Owners of the top spot in the initial BCS standings, the second-ranked Gators look to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games Saturday night when they meet a familiar face in an SEC contest at Mississippi State.
One week after grinding out a 13-3 victory at then-No. 4 LSU, Florida (6-0, 4-0) rallied for a 23-20 home win over a mediocre Arkansas team last Saturday.
That result and Alabama’s 20-6 win over then-No. 22 South Carolina caused the Gators to drop out of the top spot in the AP poll for the first time this season. However, Florida (.988) is first in the BCS standings - ahead of Alabama (.952) and third-place Texas - thanks in large part because it’s still No. 1 in the coaches’ and Harris polls, which are rated highest by the computers.
With the strength of their remaining schedules, the Gators, Tide and Longhorns just need to win out to reach the BCS title game on Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl. Florida, though, could face Alabama in the SEC championship game.
Gators coach Urban Meyer won’t dare look that far ahead after his team committed four turnovers, dropped three passes, allowed six sacks and struggled in the red zone against the Razorbacks.
“We kind of operate around here on urgency. That’s not something we’re ashamed of,” said Meyer, whose team has won three of its four conference games by 10 points or fewer. “We can sit back and say, ‘OK, we’re the No. 1 scoring offense (in the conference), the No. 1 rushing offense, the No. 1 scoring defense, total offense, pass defense, pass efficiency offense, pass efficiency defense, third downs.’
“You’re leading all these categories, but you still don’t feel like we’re operating at the highest level of efficiency.”
Looking for an eighth consecutive SEC road win, Florida will likely need to compete at a higher level than they did last weekend when it faces former offensive coordinator and first-year Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
Prior to his stint four-year stint in Gainesville, Mullen worked with Meyer at Utah, Bowling Green and Notre Dame.
“We better be ready,” Meyer said of Mullen. “They are doing everything on defense that bothered us on offense. Dan is smart guy, but we’ll be ready.”
The Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2) are near the bottom of the SEC West, but they are coming off a 27-6 win over Middle Tennessee last Saturday. They should have no trouble getting motivated to face their coach’s former employer.
“We’re coming in, planning to win the football game,” Mullen said. “You never go to play a game that you think you can’t win. Our guys are focusing on winning the game, and focusing on doing the things you have to do to win the football game.”
This will be the first meeting between the schools since Florida won 35-9 at home Oct. 8, 2005. The Gators, though, have dropped their last four trips to Starkville since last winning there in 1985.
Facing the Bulldogs for the first time, Tim Tebow again hopes to help the Gators avoid being upset after going 17 of 26 for a season-high 255 yards with a touchdown versus Arkansas. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 30 yards and ran for 22 during the game-winning 69-yard drive that ended on Caleb Sturgis’ 27-yard field goal with 9 seconds left.
Florida’s offense has totaled the same amount of points (36) over its last two games that it averages on the season. It’ll try to get back on track against a Mississippi State defensive unit that’s allowed 38.0 points per game in losses but held opponents to 5.3 per contest in wins.
The Gators give up 8.7 points and 228.3 yards per game, ranking first and second in the Football Bowl Subdivision, respectively.
Their major challenge could be stopping senior Anthony Dixon, who became Mississippi State’s career rushing leader after compiling 135 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries last weekend.
Dixon, who has 696 yards on the season and five straight 100-yard games, has 3,299 career rushing yards. This will be his first game against Florida, which has allowed an average of 95.0 yards on the ground.
Mississippi State has lost four straight games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 13 Vanderbilt 17-14 on Oct. 11, 2008.