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Florida-Florida State rivalry is back — with BCS implications

Floridquarterback Jeff Driskel sout last week with sprained right ankle but coach Will Muschamp said he’ll be ready. | John

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel sat out last week with a sprained right ankle, but coach Will Muschamp said he’ll be ready. | John Raoux~AP

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No. 24 N. Illinois
at E. Michigan

The facts: Noon, ESPN3, 670-AM.

The records: NIU 10-1, 7-0 Mid-American; EMU 2-9, 1-6.

The story line: The visiting Huskies, who already have clinched the MAC West and a third straight berth in the conference title game, can match the school’s single-season victory record.

The line: NIU, by 21.

Sun-Times’ pick: NIU 45-17.


at Northwestern

The facts: 11 a.m., BTN, 560-AM, 720-AM.

The records: Illinois 2-9, 0-7 Big Ten; NU 8-3, 4-3.

The story line: The winningest five-year senior class in Northwestern history hopes to enhance its bowl possibilities by defeating their slumping in-state rival for the first time since 2009. The Illinois could end a miserable season on a high note with a win against “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.”

The line: Northwestern by 191/2.

Neil Hayes’ pick: NU, 27-13.

No. 1 Notre Dame
at USC

The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 7, 890-AM.

The records: Notre Dame 11-0, USC 7-4.

The story line: The only thing that stands between the Irish and the BCS national championship game is a Trojans team that has lost three of four and is starting a rookie quarterback in Max Wittek. But USC has ended a perfect season for Notre Dame in the last week of the season four times.

The line: Notre Dame by 51/2.

Mark Lazerus’ pick: ND, 27-17.

Updated: December 24, 2012 7:18AM

From 1990 to 2000, it didn’t get any bigger than Florida-Florida State.

In all 11 games, both teams were ranked in the top 10. Five times, both were in the top five. After five of those games, either Florida or Florida State went on to play for the national title.

In 1996, they even played a rematch in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship, which the Gators won 52-20.

Through it all, Bobby Bowden was saying ‘‘Dadgum’’ on one sideline while Steve Spurrier simmered on the other.

Now that’s a rivalry. And guess who’s back?

With Florida ranked sixth in the Associated Press poll and fourth in the BCS standings and Florida State 10th in both, Gators-Seminoles is front-burner stuff again.

Rivalry Week is chock full of great games, including Michigan-Ohio State and a long list of intrastate matchups. But this game is poised to reclaim its place among the best.

‘‘This is like the old days,” said third-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, a former offensive assistant to Nick Saban and Les Miles at LSU.

The Gators already were counting it down last week against Jacksonville State.

‘‘As soon as that clock hit zero, you couldn’t help but think about Florida State,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. ‘‘It’s Florida-Florida State. It’s more than what’s just going on in the BCS. It’s bragging rights for the state of Florida. It’s going to be a very big game.’’

But the BCS implications could be very serious for the Gators. The Seminoles’ postseason deal is pretty straightforward. Regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, Florida State will play Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. Barring an amazing turn of events, the winner will go to the Orange Bowl.

Florida could sneak into the national championship if Notre Dame falters at USC because No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia will bump helmets in the SEC title game. The Gators also could assure themselves of a BCS bowl — most likely the Sugar — if they remain in the top four of the BCS standings.

The only problem with that scenario is there are reasons to believe Florida State, which leads the nation in total defense (236.3 yards allowed) and is fifth in points allowed (13.1), will handle the Gators, who are 80th in scoring (25.8).

The status of Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who’s coming off a sprained right ankle that sidelined him last week, also is in question. Will Muschamp said Driskel will be ready. But the 6-4, 239-pound sophomore, who is Florida’s second-leading rusher (424 yards), will need to prove his ankle is sound against a stout defense.

With Florida third in the nation in points allowed (11.7), this game figures to be a defensive struggle.

While the Gators are lurking in the national championship picture, the Seminoles are ticked off that they aren’t.

Fisher fueled that debate recently with a controlled rant about how the BCS selection process needs major surgery, with computers being downsized and voting enhanced.

‘‘I think it stinks,’’ Fisher said. ‘‘They have to change how we pick the top teams. It was better in the old days, when we did it by the eye test. [The computer] is too much about who you play, not how you play. [If] we have to let a computer tell us who’s the best team, we have major problems.’’

The Seminoles will have an opportunity to advance Fisher’s case Saturday. Florida-Florida State is back.

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