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Big tests for Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles


The first College Football Playoff rankings for 2016 are coming out Tuesday night. Are you as pumped as usual to see the opening draft and where the nation’s power programs fit?

Probably not if Florida’s big-name teams are paramount to the discussion.

The Florida Gators are the only one with a potential route to the four-team playoff field and that trip can only be completed with a few magical Grand Canyon leaps. We’re talking about running the regular-season table, including wins at Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, and then knocking off most likely Alabama in the SEC title game.

Not happening.

Here, though, is the great thing about college football. Rivalries still ring the bell loudly for fans, championship implications or not, and today is the best kind of Saturday in that regard.

Look at what’s happening in our state, enough nonstop drama to make your TV recliner feel like a runaway rocketship and to turn any weekend chore list into an impromptu napkin for nacho spills.

No. 3 Clemson at No. 12 Florida State, 8 p.m., ABC.

This probably is the last major hurdle to clear for Clemson to return to the playoff field for a second consecutive season. Already the Tigers have knocked off Louisville 42-36 to take control of the ACC Atlantic Division. On top of that, FSU has a couple of conference losses and is an underdog at home for the first time since No. 1 Oklahoma came to Tallahassee in 2011.

Look back, however, to Clemson’s last trip to FSU in 2014 for a flavor of how these talent-laden teams can always be counted on to amaze. The Seminoles were No. 1 and the defending national champions. Clemson was No. 22 and thanking its lucky stars that FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was out on a one-game suspension.

The result was an overtime classic, with FSU escaping 23-17 behind backup Sean Maguire in his first start. The Tigers fumbled in field-goal range late in regulation and blew various other scoring opportunities. Don’t look now, but Clemson has lost eight fumbles in seven games this season and has had some real scares, including a 30-24 win over Troy.

I’ll say Clemson 33-28, because of Deshaun Watson alone.

No. 14 Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m. CBS

Time to break out the Lindsay Scott 93-yard touchdown video from 1980, which CBS never fails to do as a demonstration of how crazy this grudge match can be. Truth is, Georgia has won this game just six times in the last quarter century, and Will Muschamp is the only Florida coach who had much of a problem getting a handle on this thing over that stretch.

So what’s different this time? The coaches know each other so well it could wind up being one of those low-scoring slogs that put the rest of America to sleep. McElwain was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama at the same time Georgia’s new head coach Kirby Smart was the Tide’s defensive coordinator. They’ve drawn so many X’s and O’s on the same eraseboard that this might as well be tic-tac-toe, with no truly revolutionary new moves to break out on each other.

In the end, then, it’s down to the stubborn power of Florida’s running game, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and the ability of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason to hit some big passing plays for the 4-3 Bulldogs.

Make it Florida 19-16.

Miami at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m., NBC

This is no “Game of the Century,” like the day in 1993 when new Miami coach Mark Richt went to South Bend as the quarterbacks coach for FSU. That 31-24 loss to the Fighting Irish was the only stumble for Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and the Seminoles in what turned out to be the school’s first national championship season.

Richt has another good quarterback in Brad Kaaya but the Hurricanes’ junior is rattled and sore after taking eight sacks in a loss to Virginia Tech. Overall, Miami’s offense has been stuck in the mud for most of October. That’s not a good trend against Notre Dame, which may be 2-5 but scores plenty of points along the way.

The 4-3 Hurricanes will have to show more poise than they did in that 37-16 unraveling at Blacksburg. If a trip to Notre Dame doesn’t get them in the mood, nothing will.

We’ll go with Miami 30-28, and file it with all the other wild guesses.

Right or wrong, it’s going to be one strong dose of Saturday silliness. Better eat your Wheaties.


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