Florida St.-Florida Preview
Florida State's Jameis Winston describes the football field as a safe place for him.
The Heisman Trophy candidate continues to put any distractions from an ongoing sexual assault investigation aside when he steps on the field, though he is still waiting to learn if he will be charged.
Winston helped second-ranked Florida State roll to an 80-14 win against Idaho last Saturday. The Seminoles capped off their first 11-0 start since winning the national championship in 1999.
"The football field is a sanctuary to me," Winston said. "... When all of us are on the field everything is just zoned out."
Florida State has set several school records behind Winston, and all that stands between the Seminoles and an undefeated regular season is 60 minutes against struggling rival Florida (4-7) on Saturday.
Whether Winston will continue to be the quarterback is unclear.
State Attorney Willie Meggs told the Associated Press it is unlikely that a final decision will be made before Thanksgiving on whether to charge the 19-year-old Winston.
The family of the accuser issued a statement through attorney Patricia Carroll, saying Winston raped the woman Dec. 7, 2012. Winston's lawyer Tim Jansen has suggested the sex between the two was consensual.
On the field, Winston remains a leading Heisman candidate after throwing for 225 yards and four touchdowns against the Vandals, and the Seminoles are two wins away from a likely berth in the BCS championship game.
"I mentally prepare myself for football ... always football," Winston said.
The Seminoles will prepare for a Gators team in the midst of its first losing season since going 0-10 in 1979 and coming off the first loss to an FCS team in school history, 26-20 to Georgia Southern last Saturday.
Florida coach Will Muschamp, though, doesn't feel like he has a rebuilding project on his hands.
Muschamp, who will return in 2014, said winning the SEC Eastern Division is ''absolutely'' possible next season.
It sounded a little ambitious for a team that has dropped six consecutive games, the program's longest losing streak since that winless season in 1979.
But Muschamp insisted the Gators can rebound quickly.
"I don't believe we're that far off," he said Monday. "Regardless of the results Saturday afternoon, which is all disappointing for everyone, starting with me, I just don't feel like we're that far off.''
The Gators will have their hands full against Florida State, which just keeps rolling along.
The Seminoles have set the ACC single-season record with 607 points. Florida State's streak of 11 consecutive games scoring 40 points or more ties Texas' 2005 single-season FBS mark.
Florida State has been adept at staying focused, even against lesser opponents. But the Gators will desperately want to redeem themselves after losing to Georgia Southern at home.
"Just because they lost to another team doesn't mean they're not going to come to play hard against us," Florida State running back Devonta Freeman said. "If we let up they might hit us in the mouth, but we ain't letting up.
"I know for a fact we ain't going to let up."
There hasn't been this much of a disparity between the two programs since 2009. The Gators were 13-1 and finished ranked No. 3 in the country. The Seminoles went 7-6 and ended the season unranked, but they did beat West Virginia 33-21 in the Gator Bowl. Florida cannot become bowl eligible in 2013, even with a win this week.
"At the end of the day they're still the University of Florida and they're going to come out and play us hard, probably harder than any other team that we play," Florida State nose guard Timmy Jernigan said. "Last year they were kind of up and down a lot throughout the season but they came here and they beat us so we definitely remember that."
Linebacker Telvin Smith added, "They could lose every game but when they play us they're probably going to play their best game against us. And it's in their house. We're playing the fans and the team."
Florida pulled into Tallahassee in 2012 and beat a 10-1 Florida State team 37-26. That seems like an eternity ago for Gator fans. The scoring offense is ranked No. 110 in the country as Florida is on its third starting quarterback, Skyler Mornhinweg, after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season with a knee injury and Tyler Murphy is dealing with a shoulder issue.
Slowing down the Seminoles' offense is just one challenge facing Florida; the Gators need to find a way to score.
The Seminoles lead the nation with 23 interceptions and have more players with an interception (16) than receptions (15). Florida State has given up more than 14 points twice all season and has won its last three games by a combined 198-20.
''We just have to focus on Florida and try to get back to where we used to be,'' Gators safety Jaylen Watkins said.