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History says Gators can shake off bad performance and beat FSU

If you’re trying to figure out how the suddenly winded Florida Gators could scramble to beat FAU in overtime and then go out and beat Florida State this Saturday, take a look back at 2012, a template of confusing results that thus far fits this season pretty well.

That season could hardly have been stranger, beginning with the fact that it made it look like Will Muschamp was just getting started as an SEC championship contender for years to come.

The highs were out of this world, from Florida’s No. 2 ranking in the mid-October BCS rankings to the Gators’ 7-1 SEC record, a massive leap from 3-5 in conference play the previous season.

The lows? Florida was headed for overtime against Louisiana-Lafayette until a punt block produced a saving touchdown with two seconds left in regulation. Also there was a sluggish 23-0 win over Jacksonville State of the FCS in which the Gators scored just one offensive touchdown.

Overall, the 2012 Gators had a sensational defense but nothing much on the other side of the ball, ranking No. 103 of 120 Div. I teams in total offense and No. 114 in passing offense.

Still, Florida managed to skate across those thin spots in the ice to finish 11-2. They beat the Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium, too, roaring back in the fourth quarter to win 37-26.

So that’s what can happen. The question is what will happen on Saturday night?

Jim McElwain doesn’t know, but a lot of what he’s bringing into this game sure isn’t good.

His quarterback, Treon Harris, is going backwards since taking over for suspended starter Will Grier. In the last three scary wins over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FAU, Harris has thrown four interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. Two of those picks were at the goal line and one of those fumbles was recovered for a touchdown.

Another basic component of any complete team, the placekicker, is missing, too. Austin Hardin is no better than a coin-flip any time he takes the field, and that includes extra points.

There are other flaws that McElwain couldn’t possibly have hoped to fix in his first year as Gators coach, but here’s what will matter more than any of that if Florida is going to beat Jimbo Fisher for just the second time in six tries.

The daydreaming is over.

All that talk about the College Football Playoff rankings and what it would take to get the Gators into the top four? Forget it. Florida isn’t good enough to play for a national title, and it’s pointless pretending.

Second, the surprising celebration over winning the SEC East has also run its course. The Gators played better and with greater intensity before that title was clinched. If they still were looking forward to pushing Alabama around in Atlanta on Dec. 5, getting stymied by FAU surely cleared that fog.

Last, the new AP poll, ranking Florida 10th and FSU 14th, is a clearer representation of where these two rivals stand than previous measurements. The Gators and Seminoles are good teams but not great, with each capable of really pounding the other when operating in high gear.

That’s the focus McElwain needs from a Florida team that, according to him, played like “dead fish on ice” against FAU.

Think more of piranha, alive and toothy, when the Gators take the field this time, not at noon but in prime time, not against unranked opposition but a ranked rival that has owned the series of late.

So again, we know what can happen. The question is what will happen.

Among other things, Dalvin Cook rushed for 144 yards in last year’s 24-19 FSU win over Florida, so I expect him to do something like that again. On the flip side, Florida’s defense made Jameis Winston sweat last November, forcing four interceptions and limiting the Heisman Trophy winner to 125 passing yards, and I expect the Gator defense to be just as hard on Sean Maguire.

Put it all together and it figures to come down to a field goal, which means that Florida will lose.

Unless, of course, it really is 2012 all over again. The year of the charmed Gator.

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