Actually, genius wasn't necessary on Saturday. Execution was. Florida State running back Warrick Dunn had hurt the Gators the previous two years with dramatic, backbreaking plays, but this time his longest gain was 15 yards. The Florida secondary picked off three of Kanell's passes, the most important of which was a momentum-crushing interception by Anthone Lott in the end zone with slightly more than six minutes left. And in stark contrast to last year's regular-season game, Florida State scored no points in the fourth quarter.
"We're just on a roll, and we're going to take every opportunity to take advantage of it," Wright said. "We're pretty healthy. And we've got a lot of love for each other."
Florida, which is now No. 2 in the polls, must still beat Arkansas in this weekend's SEC championship game in Atlanta and then No. 1 Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 before a national title can be won. What the Gators can enjoy now is superiority in the state of Florida. The three main universities in Florida have a savage rivalry, with Miami's vaunted Hurricanes being the established national power, Florida State winning its first national title in 1993 and Florida, until this year anyway, sitting one step below them both. The players at the three schools know each other, often having played together or against one another in high school, but the alums drive football fever in this state. "You can describe it like a Civil War: It's people you live next to, and for this one week you're going after each other's throats," says Doering.
Now, though, for the first time since the state began producing the richest talent in the nation, the balance of power has fully shifted the Gators' way. Miami's storied Hurricanes are closing in on NCAA sanctions, and the Seminoles not only lost to Florida for the first time since 1991 but also could wind up out of the top five in the final rankings for the first time in nine years. Florida has sealed its position as a force beyond the borders of the SEC, and it figures to take full advantage of the resulting recruiting edge. Wright says he felt the rumbling of change beginning back in 1991, when he committed to his beloved Hurricanes but changed his mind after Spurrier told him, "You don't want to go to Miami, where they've won a bunch of national championships. You want to come to Florida, where you can be one of the first to win. I felt it was the up-and-rising program."
Wright is on track to graduate, but he has even bigger plans. For two years, his Right Trak athletic-academic program has helped guide 40 at-risk kids in his old neighborhood. A building-construction major, he has also drawn up architectural plans for a complex that would serve as a community center. His staff includes Hurricane football players from the area and Florida State running back Rock Preston. Says Wright, "A lot of people said, 'Oh, Lawrence Wright, he's not going to make it, he's going to be dead or in jail.' But I'm 22 years old, playing for the Florida Gators. We're 11-0. I made it."
So has Florida. The stadium-record crowd pulsed with that new, almost scary feeling: With Gator resources, connections and clout, the sky's the limit. Wright finally stopped dancing, and handed off the flag. Then he began running.
"We're like that Money Train!" Wright shouted as he passed the milling players and fans and officials on the grass. "We've got no brakes! Full speed ahead!"