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Gators shift focus from SEC to Seminoles

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- Florida lost its chance to play for the SEC title. So what will it do?

GAINESVILLE -- Florida lost its chance to play for the SEC title. So what will it do?

Go to Tallahassee.

Knowing the SEC title is no longer possible, Florida turned its attention to the Nov.30 showdown with rival Florida State.

A victory would give the Gators a nine-win regular season under first-year coach Ron Zook.

"We've still got an opportunity to have a great year," Zook said. "We've still got another game, a big game. It's a game that we can zero in on and focus on and get ready to play then have an opportunity to go to a bowl game."

Because Florida hasn't won at Doak Campbell Stadium since 1986, the players said SEC championship or not, they want to win.

"FSU is big anyway, whether Georgia won or lost," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "That's the state rival. It's right up the street. You've got friends. You've got family on those other teams. There's always something when we get together." "We've definitely got to take this next week off, and we've got to focus and get ready for them. Because we want to do something at least one last time for the seniors to go out with a win in a regular-season game. We want them to go out as winners."

OUTBACK BOUND? Auburn's collapse against Georgia not only sealed Florida's SEC fate, but possibly its bowl status. Barring a last-minute change of heart by Capital One Bowl officials, Florida will spend New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl.

The SEC champion plays in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, formerly the Citrus Bowl, gets the second selection among the SEC's bowl-eligible teams. The Outback gets the third choice of the SEC and Big Ten.

Outback officials want Florida, which has never played in the game. The last time the Gators landed in Orlando, (1999), the game didn't sell out until local businesses bought the remaining tickets on the eve of the game. And whether bowl officials want to take that gamble again remains to be seen.

Outback Bowl officials seem to believe Tampa Bay's large Florida contingent and its usual following will equal a sellout.

"We've sold out three of the last four years, and ticket sales this year are at an all-time high pace," said Carter McCain, chairman of this year's Outback Bowl. "We're really fortunate the way things have turned out."

Participating teams receive $2.5-million, McCain said.

KICKING IMPROVED: Matt Leach was 4-for-4 on extra points Saturday after missing an extra point and field goal against Vanderbilt on Nov.9. Ingle Martin averaged 38 yards on four punts after averaging just more than 30 against Vanderbilt. Zook said it doesn't mean the kicking ills are cured but it was encouraging.

"I'm proud of them," he said. "We kicked and protected and covered well."

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