Florida’s bowl streak in danger

Entering the 2011 season, most Florida fans expected some struggles with a new coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball, but almost nobody thought there was a chance the Gators could snap one of their most prestigious streaks.

The Gators have been to bowls for 20 consecutive years, but sitting at just 4-4 with four games remaining, Florida is now far from certain to keep that streak alive.

What makes Florida’s precarious situation even worse for Gators fans is that the only team with a longer active streak is hated in-state rival Florida State, which is seeking its 30th consecutive bowl game this year.

At 5-3 with four games remaining, with only one against a team currently above .500, it seems likely the Seminoles will extend their streak.

There’s a chance they could even do it at Florida’s expense if they don’t pick up a win before the rivals’ annual showdown in the season finale.

Meanwhile, a Florida team that is reeling after suffering four consecutive losses for the first time since 1988 is searching desperately for some momentum.

The Gators return home for the first time since Oct. 1 against Alabama on Saturday when they take on a Vanderbilt team that has been up and down this season.

The Commodores began the season 3-0, but have dropped three of their last four. Vanderbilt will arrive in the Swamp with the same 4-4 record as Florida but more momentum, despite its record in the past month.

Vanderbilt has hung tough with its past two SEC opponents, losing by just five to a now 6-2 Georgia team and coming within a missed 28-yard field goal from sending its game against now 7-1 Arkansas to overtime.

Florida’s running game has really hurt the Gators of late, and Vanderbilt ranks higher than Florida in both rushing and rushing defense.

Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the brother of Super Bowl winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has taken over for Vanderbilt and given the offense a big boost.

Rodgers is a dual-threat quarterback who has made several big plays with his feet, and Florida has proven susceptible to quarterbacks who can take off and run.

The Gators have won the past 20 meetings in the series, but may even enter this week’s game as an underdog against a Vanderbilt team that has racked up more than 450 yards of offense in each of the past two weeks.

This much is clear: Florida will have its work cut out for it if it hopes to extend its bowl streak.

Winning against Vanderbilt would almost certainly assure a bowl bid, as Florida will face FCS foe Furman later in the month.

However, if Florida’s struggles continue and Vanderbilt manages to snap the Gators’ 20-game winning streak, the Commodores might also snap Florida’s 20-year bowl streak.

Aside from Furman, the remaining games on the schedule won’t get any easier.

Florida will travel to Columbia in mid-November to take on 7-1 South Carolina, before hosting 5-3 rival Florida State to end the season.

The game against Vanderbilt has suddenly become much more of a must-win than a sure win, and that’s not a good thing for a team that hasn’t played very well when the pressure is on the past two years.