Gators win sunshine state battle

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Despite three losses and failing to reach the Southeastern Conference title game, Urban Meyer's first season at Florida can now be called successful.

Or at the very least, a good start.

Chris Leak threw two touchdown passes, the defense created four turnovers and the No. 19 Gators overwhelmed 23rd-ranked Florida State 34-7 Saturday at The Swamp.

''There's a lot of juice right now from that win,'' Meyer said.

Florida (8-3) finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2000 and knocked off its top three rivals - Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State - in the same season for the first time since 1996.

''That's a big feat,'' Meyer said. ''Our players really thrived on that. They brought it up often.''

The Seminoles (7-4) may have reached a new low under longtime coach Bobby Bowden, losing three in a row for the first time since 1983.

Florida State still has a chance to turn the season around, though. It can win the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference championship game next week in Jacksonville and advance to the Orange Bowl.

But few would believe that possible after FSU's last three games: losses to North Carolina State, Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles were outscored 89-36 in those contests.

Florida's victory against its in-state rival was the most lopsided in the series since a 52-20 win in the 1997 Sugar Bowl, which gave the Gators their lone national title.

Florida won this one with its most complete game of the season. The offense sustained long drives, the defense delivered constant pressure on Drew Weatherford, and special teams scored a key touchdown.

''This goes down as a real big win,'' Meyer said. ''There's a lot to take from this.''

Meyer said the victory would give his team momentum heading into a bowl game, help recruiting and energize the offseason.

''Obviously, we're here to play for championships. That didn't get done, but to go out and get a win against Florida State is huge,'' linebacker Todd McCullough said. ''That's something this team can build on.''

Added center Mike Degory: ''Anytime there's a change made, it takes a little time. The wheels are in motion. You guys only see the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lot going on under the water. This thing is heading in the right direction.''