Here we go with Week 11:
#2 Appalachian State (9-1, 7-1 1st) @ Florida (6-4, 4-4 SEC)
TV: ESPN Gameplan
Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Surface: Natural Grass
Jeff Sagarin Ratings:
Home advantage: 2.94 points
Florida is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 14 ½ points (rounded).
Series: First meeting
Last Meeting: n/a
Twelve weeks ago, Florida was the last team on the mind of Appalachian fans, and same goes for Gator fans toward the Mountaineers. Both schools have played their respective conference slate, and many would have guessed this game would consist of at least one conference champion. Some would even have figured it could consist of two undefeated teams. However, not many would have correctly guessed which team was 6-4, and which one was 9-1. Both teams had to replace once in a generation quarterbacks. Both teams consistently compete for conference and national championships. The biggest difference for Florida was having juniors leave to play at the next level. At Appalachian, juniors go to summer school. That kind of leadership and experience is needed in football to consistently win. Appalachian will play this game to win. Florida may see this season as a lost cause, after last week missing their chance to play for an SEC championship, and having a rivalry game next week. This game has come off an emotional low for Florida, while Appalachian is fresh off winning their conference, and emotions could not be any higher. Can Florida pick themselves up off the mat, and play against a perceived inferior opponent? Can Appalachian continue to play at a high level after an emotional win? The mental game may be just as important this weekend at the Swamp.
Florida really needs no introduction. Appalachian fans know all about the Gators and their prestige. They have won three national championships in their history, all in the last 15 seasons. They have also captured eight SEC championships in the last 20 seasons. They recruit nationally, and get the best talent in the country, year in and year out. They send numerous players to the NFL each year, and are showcased on national television every week. They have one of the most feared home field advantages in all of college football. They are simply the Florida Gators.
Unless you have not left your house recently, you know that Florida is not having that typical Florida season. Florida experienced a three game losing streak after starting 4-0, losing to Alabama, Louisiana State, and then on homecoming to Mississippi State. The Mississippi game was the real head scratcher, losing 10-7. The Gators then got it together after a bye week, and beat Georgia and Vanderbilt. Last week, Florida did the unthinkable, and lost their third home game of the season to South Carolina, with the SEC East title on the line.
Florida plans to platoon three quarterbacks against the Mountaineers, as they have done for the last few weeks. They are looking to jumpstart an offense that has had some serious issues moving the football. The more the Mountaineers see of John Brantley, the better their chances to win. That would mean that Jordan Reed and Trey Burton have not been successful running the football. Brantley is a mediocre quarterback with a 117.4 efficiency rating. He has eight touchdowns, but also seven interceptions. He averages 174 yards passing a game. If the Mountaineers see a lot of Reed or Burton, it could be a long day. Burton is the more accomplished runner of the quarterbacks, with a 5 yard per carry average and ten touchdowns. Reed has seen most of his work in the last two games, is really a mix of the two, good runner, and decent passer.
The Mountaineers certainly responded after their mistake filled loss tat Georgia Southern. It appeared to be a totally different team on the field. Appalachian took advantage of costly Wofford turnovers and turned a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter into a 31-0 lead early in the second half. Florida will certainly take note that they cannot give the Appalachian offense a short field. Appalachian also shut down one of the best rushing offenses in the FCS. Wofford was held way below their average for rushing the football, and did not complete a pass until the second half. The biggest key for Appalachian is to make sure that the defense continues to play at that level. Florida has some of the best football players in the country, and any missed tackles or assignments by Appalachian will be exploited and go for big plays.
Simply, this is a game that Florida should not lose, but, they should also know, that a loss is possible if they do not play well. There will be no Michigan Part 2. Appalachian State will never sneak up on an opponent ever again. Although victories for FCS teams over FBS squads are rare, the talent level has shrunk significantly over the last few seasons. For Appalachian, the tide began to turn in 2005. The LSU game where the Mountaineers were only down 14-0 in the fourth quarter is about the only other game that can compare to this Saturday. Usually, the Mountaineers play their money game at the beginning of the season. In 2005, much like this season, Appalachian is peaking at the right time of the year, before the FCS playoffs. Prior to the LSU game in 2005, Appalachian learned that it controlled its own destiny to win the conference title, based on a result from an earlier game, and were able to play loose and relaxed. This season is almost identical to 2005, take away the Kansas game. Start the season with a tough road game (E. Kentucky, Chattanooga), take care of the conference despite a tough road loss (Furman, Georgia Southern) , and play a power SEC program at the end of the year (LSU, Florida). The LSU game in 2005 gave that Appalachian team all the confidence they needed before the playoffs. They proved to themselves that they could play with anyone. That game really put into gear what has now become the Appalachian football program as we now know it. The Mountaineers do not feel as if they are underdogs, like they are supposed to lay down for the big boys. They want to show the world what they are all about. A Mountaineer win is not what many fans are expecting this weekend, but they also would not be shocked if it happened. It will be tough, but it is not uncalled for. This one should be fun to watch, but I think Florida might have more points after sixty minutes.
The First Pick: