TALLAHASSEE (AP) - With some help, No. 22 Florida State can accomplish two huge goals Saturday.
The Seminoles will try to snap a six-game losing streak against rival Florida and if things break right in College Park, Md., they also can earn a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Florida State was in the same position two years ago, but got hammered by the Gators at home and received no help from Maryland, which failed to beat Boston College and give the Seminoles a back-door entry into the ACC title game.
It's been a lot longer though since Florida State defeated the Gators, who have won a pair of national titles since last losing to the Seminoles in 2003 on a last-minute, 52-yard desperation heave from Chris Rix to P.K. Sam.
First-year Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher would love to cap off his inaugural regular season with a victory.
"This is another step for us to learn to play in these kinds of games," Fisher said. "When you're learning to compete with those folks, it means you're taking steps in the right direction."
The Seminoles (8-3, 6-2) are a 2 1/2-point favorite - a year after being a four-touchdown underdog at Gainesville. They lost that game by 27.
"They feel like they can do anything with this new coach that they have," Florida defensive tackle Terron Sanders said. "We're just trying to keep the tradition alive around here winning games."
Florida (7-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) could finish off its otherwise disappointing season with a record seventh straight win in this series that started in 1958. The Gators also won six straight games in the series between 1981 and 1986.
"It would do a lot to make this season a success with everything that's happened," conceded Florida coach Urban Meyer, who has never seen one of his teams lose five games in his 10-year career as a head coach.
Meyer is likely to use three quarterbacks in a bid to keep the streak going. John Brantley, a conventional dropback passer, is expected to start with backups Trey Burton and Jordan Reed, both strong runners like Tim Tebow, will see significant action.
Three-year starter Christian Ponder closes out his Florida State home career.
Ponder, who started two years ago on a rainy Tallahassee night when Tebow manhandled the Seminoles 45-15, missed last year's game with a shoulder injury while backup EJ Manuel ran things in a third straight lopsided loss that accelerated Fisher's move into the job held for 34 years by Bobby Bowden.
Ponder hasn't enjoyed the type of season envisioned for him by school officials who cranked up a preseason Heisman promotion that died quickly and he's never beaten the Gators. Ponder has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,817 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and will finish in the top five at Florida State in career completions and passing yardage, but won't be in the top 10 in winning percentage.
He has a 20-12 record as a starter since ousting three-year incumbent Drew Weatherford (who finished his career 20-13 as a starter) out of the starting job in 2008. Weatherford also never beat Florida.
Florida State might be tempted to find out what is going on in the North Carolina State-Maryland game, which kicks off the same time as the Noles and Gators. A win by the Terrapins would catapult the Seminoles into next week's ACC title game.
North Carolina State and the Seminoles each have two losses in the ACC Atlantic Division, but the Wolfpack own the tiebreaker because of a 28-24 win over Florida State last month.
"Hopefully everyone's focus stays on the Florida game and not worry about what's going on the scoreboard," Ponder said earlier in the week before Fisher said the score will not be announced or shown on the scoreboard during the Florida game.
It's also the final home game for a handful of other Florida State seniors, including a pair of four-year starters on the offensive line, center Ryan McMahon and guard Rodney Hudson, who is a finalist for the Outland Trophy awarded to the nation's most outstanding lineman.
Florida State's offense will be without junior tailback Jermaine Thomas, who is the only Seminoles player to score touchdowns the last two years against the Gators.