The holidays are fast approaching and they bring tidings of comfort and joy, along with intense college football rivalries. It”s crunch time once again as we approach the final three weeks of the regular season.

Paul Wong
Washington quarterback Cody Pickett can ruin Washington State”s Pac-10 championship dreams if he can lead the Huskies past the Cougars in the annual “”Apple Cup”” game this Saturday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

The bowl picture is starting to come into focus and teams are getting fired up for that final push to the finish line. Will Miami and Nebraska remain undefeated and play for the title? Will Brigham Young and Maryland make their BCS dreams come true? Stay tuned.

This week, all roads lead to sunny Florida as Miami hosts Syracuse and the Seminoles and Gators do battle in the Swamp.

No. 14 Syracuse (5-0 Big East, 8-2 overall) at No. 2 Miami (5-0, 8-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC: Coach Larry Coker”s Hurricanes are undefeated as they prepare to face a tough Syracuse team at home in the Orange Bowl.

Quarterback Ken Dorsey who is still a Heisman candidate will be looking for a better showing than he had against Boston College last week.

Dorsey didn”t pass for a touchdown for the first time all season. This week, Dorsey will have to play with more fire if he wants to keep his team”s NCAA-best 18-game winning streak alive.

The Orangemen, who are also undefeated in the conference, are going to be fired up. Syracuse has gone 8-0 since losing two early games against Georgia Tech and Tennessee.

Miami has no visible weak spots. But the Orangemen have quietly climbed the polls and would love to play the giant-killer for the second time this season after a huge road win over Virginia Tech.

They also boast the nation”s best turnover margin at plus-16. But Coker will have his Hurricanes ready and the home crowd in Coral Gables will cheer its team to yet another victory.

Miami 31, Syracuse 24

No. 21 Florida State (5-2 ACC, 6-3 overall) at No. 4 Florida (6-1 SEC, 8-1 overall), 8 p.m., CBS: While many teams would be thrilled at the thought of an 8-3 season, three losses is considered abysmal in Tallahassee.

Coach Bobby Bowden”s Seminoles have not just lost three games, but their normally tough defense is also giving up an average of 349 yards per game.

To make matters worse, after playing the Gators, Florida State still must deal with Georgia Tech in its regular season finale. The Seminoles could very easily lose five games this season and drop out of the rankings for the first time in 12 years.

Meanwhile in Gainesville, intrastate rival Florida is gearing up for a run at the national title. Quarterback Rex Grossman is leading the nation in completion percentage at 66 percent and the Gators are playing near-flawless football as exhibited by their 54-17 pounding of South Carolina last week.

The Gators scored on their first nine possessions against the Gamecocks, and have amazingly not punted once in the last two games.

While this game has always been an intriguing and heated rivalry Florida State has won the last three battles this year looks to be a mismatch. Expect Steve Spurrier”s Florida squad to manhandle the Seminoles in the Swamp, where the Gators are 67-4 since 1990.

Florida 42, Florida State 21

No. 9 Washington State (6-1 Pac-10, 9-1 overall) at No. 16 Washington (5-2, 7-2), 3:30 P.M., ABC: The annual battle known as “The Apple Cup” has not usually generated much hype the Huskies have won 60 of 93 games, more or less dominating their cross-state rivals.

But, coach Mike Price”s Cougars have found some of the same magic they had in 1997, when they went to the Rose Bowl before losing to Michigan.

The Cougars have once again put themselves in position to at least share the Pac-10 title with Oregon, the only team that has managed to beat Washington State.

But quarterback Jason Gesser has kept Washington State fans guessing as to whether he will play following a minor concussion against Arizona State last week.

As of yesterday, Gesser and his coach have both made statements saying he will play and he was cleared by doctors. The surprise star has passed for 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season.

While the Cougars seem to have more on the line, the Huskies could still get a share of the conference title with a win Saturday and an Oregon loss to rival Oregon State on Dec. 1.

Coach Rick Neuheisel has never lost to the Cougars in his three years at Washington. He has two outstanding running backs in Willie Hurst and Rich Alexis, as well as the quarterback tandem of Cody Pickett and Taylor Barton. These two have combined to average 278.8 passing yards, which is on pace to set a school record.

This should be a great game, showcasing two strong offensive teams. Emotions will run high and the scoreboard will be lit up, but in the end the Huskies should prevail at home, thereby ruining Washington State”s conference title dreams.

Washington 49, Washington State 45

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