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Sunshine Stakes: Florida plays LSU in huge game, Miami takes aim at Notre Dame

Florida and LSU play the biggest game involving a Florida team this weekend, but Miami takes on a titan and Florida State tries to stay undefeated.

Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Florida vs. LSU, 3:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS)

What's at stake? Florida's 4-0 and the Gators are looking better than they have since Tim Tebow roamed The Swamp. This game against LSU, a top-10 matchup with their annual SEC West rivals, isn't just Florida's chance to win an SEC game and take control of the SEC East race -- it's the Gators' opportunity to win back the respect that evaporated when the Tebow Era melted into the John Brantley Period, and establish themselves as legitimate national championship contenders in just Will Muschamp's second year.

If Florida wins: The Gators are likely to jump into the top eight of the national polls, given that LSU, one of Georgia and South Carolina, and one of West Virginia and Texas will all have lost on the weekend. Florida's résumé might look the best of any team in the country, too, with four SEC wins, two road wins, and a win over a top-five team.

And the Gators would hold the reins in the SEC East race, too: at 4-0 in the conference with just one road test remaining and its games against Georgia and South Carolina in the Sunshine State, Florida could be the favorite to emerge from the three-team logjam in the East and earn a shot at the West's winner (likely Alabama) for a possible national title shot in the SEC Championship.

If Florida loses: The narrative of a return to glory gets put on hold for a bit, sure, and the Gators don't have the most room on the driver's seat in the SEC East. But a loss doesn't end Florida's season by any stretch: the Gators would still control their own destiny in the East, and could still set themselves finish 11-1 or 10-2 by winning the tough home game with South Carolina, beating Georgia, knocking off Vanderbilt on the road and holding serve until the trip to Tallahassee.

Miami vs. Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS)

What's at stake? Miami could wreck a promising Notre Dame season by upsetting the Irish, but not even a big win is going to get the 'Canes into the top 25, in all likelihood. Miami also doesn't really need this win for bowl eligibility, and a win over Notre Dame doesn't count as an ACC win (...yet), so this game's got mostly pride and bragging rights on the line.

If Miami wins: The 'Canes get to enjoy one of the most massive upsets of the year, and will likely be the first team to have solved Notre Dame's defense in 2012. Miami fans could be as obnoxious as ever get, too, with their signature win in a down year coming over a team that all the nation loves to point and laugh at. (And Miami's defense may have played the game of its life.)

If Miami loses: Miami looks like a team that is not elite and can't compete with the best teams in America, just like it did against Kansas State. Bright side: the 'Canes will have more chances to do the same thing later in the year!

Florida State at N.C. State, 8:00 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

What's at stake? Florida State's cleared its highest hurdle until Florida comes to town in November, and the 'Noles are now in a two-month period of trying to make sure that it uses enough to not clip any others. N.C. State isn't likely to upset FSU, but the Seminoles' recent history of losing games they shouldn't makes every week in the ACC another potential pitfall.

If Florida State wins: FSU stays on a collision course with an 11-0 start to the season.

If Florida State loses: The brilliant national championship season that's been dancing in Seminoles fans' heads for months is all but gone: while the 'Noles are probably not going to be aced out of a national championship game spot if they go undefeated, it's going to be very difficult for a one-loss Florida State to play for a title unless the loss is to an undefeated Florida.

USF at Temple, noon Saturday (SNY/MASN)

What's at stake? USF wants to rebound from its listless offensive performance in a loss to Florida State, but it needs to get a Big East win soon to have any prayer of not being buried in the conference.

If USF wins: Yay, USF's back at .500 on the year and in the Big East! The best thing about a win over Temple is that it makes the chances of USF making it to a bowl game in 2012 a little more than slim.

If USF loses: The Bulls can all but kiss a bowl goodbye: falling to 2-4 with trips to Louisville, Cincinnati, and Miami on the docket is a good way for a team that looks to have regressed under Skip Holtz to make its road to a game in December too forbidding to traverse.

Sunshine Stakes is Andy Hutchins' look at what's at stake in college football games involving Florida teams each week. Please feel free to give him feedback and/or yell at him in the comments. No, he's not sorry that this didn't run yesterday, because coming up with what would have been at stake in the UCF-FIU game would have been hard.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.