Eyes on the Gators

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- According to Cornellius Carradine, there's a different energy on the practice fields this week. It's the final home game of the season, it's a rivalry week for Florida State, and the enthusiasm is always ramped up this time of year. But this season, there's something more at stake.

An ACC championship game and a potential Orange Bowl appearance remain on the horizon, but for Florida State, so much of how this season will be remembered -- inside the locker room and around the country -- will be dictated by Florida.

"Florida is everything," Carradine said.

Ten wins have preceded this game, including a victory over No. 12 Clemson, but none would provide more definitive evidence of Florida State's greatness than a victory over the Gators.

A possible conference title and BCS bowl game await, but the tepid enthusiasm surrounding hypothetical wins over Georgia Tech and the Big East champion don't compare to winning the state of Florida championship for the third straight season.

FSU's 10th-place standing in the BCS rankings would represent its highest finish since 2000, but among fans and players, it's tantamount to a slap in the face. But Florida could change all that.

"We want to be respected and nationally known and stop hanging around No. 10, when we've proven week in and week out what we can do while these other guys get the respect," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "This week can definitely help set us up to show the country that we are a top-5 team and we can be a No. 1 team."

A week after lambasting the BCS system for ranking teams, Jimbo Fisher quickly shut down any additional talk about FSU's continued positioning behind numerous two-, three-, and four-loss teams in the computer rankings this week. Inside the locker room, it's a slightly different story.

Fisher said he's not playing up the significance of a win over Florida, which is ranked No. 4 and considered one of the top teams in the SEC, which has six teams ranked in the top 12 of the BCS. But his players understand that this game is an opportunity, and he's happy to remind them of what it takes to capitalize.

"If you play well, you get respect. If you don't play well, you don't get respect," Fisher said. "Those kids know that. They know when they go into a battle with Florida, and we're both in the top 10, it's not something you have to push. It's something we've talked about as far as what we have to do because of where we want our program to go. That's it."

Of course, respect can be something of a nebulous thing, measured in headlines and highlights and Heisman chatter, among other metrics. The rankings, on the other hand, are a more precise evaluation, and Florida State is hardly pleased with its positioning.

In the BCS standings, the Seminoles trail three two-loss teams, including two from the SEC (Texas A&M and LSU). A third -- South Carolina -- ranks just two spots behind FSU but is ahead in every computer ranking, a system that has proven particularly frustrating for Fisher and his team.

Florida, however, provides a common thread and a potential solution. The Gators have beaten all three of those SEC foes fluttering around FSU in the BCS standings, meaning if the Seminoles could prevail Saturday, they'd have an iron-clad argument that the system has undervalued their ability.

"A lot of the top teams that are in front of us, Florida already beat," Carradine said. "So we think if we beat them, we should jump up pretty high."

It makes sense on a logical level, but in a season in which just one point separates FSU from a spotless record, the critics still have managed to find flaws. The schedule has been weak, and all the blowout wins haven't been enough to convince the doubters.

Florida represents a chance to win the hearts and minds of voters -- and, perhaps, a few computers -- but Xavier Rhodes said that's a battle he's not interested in fighting.

"A win over Florida, it'd help us get back to where we want, but we're not really worried about that," Rhodes said. "We're just trying to win our conference, and if we do that, where we fall is where we fall."

Rhodes isn't alone. His mantra has been echoed by others, at least publicly. Inside the locker room, the quest for respect might be a more prominent talking point, but all insist it is not a distraction.

After all, this is first and foremost a rivalry game. Before earning the respect of the nation, there is the small task of winning the championship of the state.

Things are different this week, but against Florida, motivation comes in spite of the rankings.

"It's Florida week, and we want to beat Florida," Bjoern Werner said. "It doesn't matter if we're both unranked. It's Florida week. It's bragging rights."