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SUNSHINE STATE BASKS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL SUPERIORITY

Alabama lost to Arkansas. Miami to Arizona State. Texas, poised to return to its glory days, had its goriest day since Teddy Roosevelt was president when twice-beaten UCLA put 66 points on the board.

Notre Dame has sunk to the status of Ball State, providing a warm-up game for Big Ten teams. Syracuse is now a bad joke.

That's the way it has gone in college football so far this season.

Still, after all else fails, when it comes to college football you can depend upon the state of Florida.

Last Saturday was an orgy of entertaining football on television, with six of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference, the most entertaining of all college leagues, hacking at one another.

To begin, Arkansas rose up and upset Alabama in the final two minutes of play. It came on a touchdown pass, which was fitting since Joe Ferguson is the Razorbacks' new quarterback coach and Kay Stephenson the offensive coordinator. The day closed with a traditional rousing night game in Baton Rouge, when Auburn roared back to overtake LSU.

But the prize was sandwiched in between. The reigning Heisman winner, Danny Wuerffel, is gone and so are his great receivers. Nevertheless, the University of Florida now considers a serious run at the national championship as its birthright.

Who is Doug Johnson? He's an infielder in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' farm system, but his hobby is throwing touchdown passes, like the last half dozen Gator quarterbacks before him. Wide receiver Jacquez Green looks every bit as good as the starters to whom Wuerffel threw.

Florida's universities may not put forth a serious Heisman candidate, but the talent pool remains stupendous. Florida State just introduced a Deion Sanders clone in wide receiver-kick returner Peter Warrick, who scored long-distance touchdowns on a reception and punt return. In addition Warrick may start a new trend. He just leaves the ball in the end zone after he scores; no back flip, no celebration dance. His partner, E.G. Green, may be as good as any receiver in the nation.

The next great NFL pass rushers? Try Ed Chester at Florida and Andre Wadsworth at Florida State. The pro scouts already have drawn a bead on Tra Thomas, a Florida State offensive tackle, and Seminole linebacker Daryl Bush. Florida has two of the best defensive backs in the country, strong safety Tony George, who personally destroyed Tennessee, and cornerback Fred Weary.

The talent pool is so rich that the best quarterback in the state doesn't even play for the Big Three -- the Seminoles, Gators or University of Miami. He's Daunte Culpepper of Central Florida, a 6-4, 235-pound junior, who can throw a ball through your front door.

Central Florida, which lost by whiskers to Mississippi and South Carolina, is serious about making a move to play with the biggies. Look for them soon in the Big East.

Forget about the New Year's bowl games, the national championship could be decided Nov. 22, when Florida State travels to Gainesville to play Florida in "the Swamp."

After this week's bye, the Seminoles play Miami in Tallahassee and still have to deal with North Carolina, another team with ideas about the national title, in early November. Florida runs an SEC gauntlet of Arkansas, LSU and Auburn next month. Don't bet against anyone spoiling that pre-Thanksgiving showdown.

Then there is the future to consider. In the next decade we could see half of college football's top 10 dominated by Florida teams: the Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes, ambitious Central and the University of South Florida, a huge school in Tampa that just began playing football this year. They're 1-2, but just five points away from being undefeated.

If the Florida schools can beat off the talent recruiters from Notre Dame, Michigan and the rest of the country, they can have the next millennium to themselves.

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