Frustrated. Discouraged. Maybe even downright depressed. That is how most of the Gator Nation seems to feel at this point despite the fact the team is 10-1 and heading for the SEC Championship Game in a little over a week. Last week I said that ugly games needed loving too. Some games are just too ugly for even a mother to love. The overtime victory over a pathetic 2-8 Florida Atlantic team is just such a game. I tried to watch it a second time on the SEC Network and just could not stomach the entire game. Apparently, the playoff committee couldn’t stomach it either as they dropped the Florida Gators four spots down to 12th. Gators fans need not worry too much about the playoff standings right now. It likely will not matter.
Let me begin by saying that I detest these late season alleged cupcake games. It must be so difficult for players to avoid a letdown after a brutal SEC schedule and then suddenly playing a game where people are discussing all week how many starters should be rested and how many snaps should the backup quarterback receive. Even in the 12-2 season of 2012 the Gators needed a blocked punt to beat LA Tech. The following year they actually lost to GA Southern. These games need to disappear. That said, this game should have been a blowout. What’s done is done. It is time to move on.
The Gators now face a two game opportunity to redeem themselves, but are they up to the task? It is worth repeating that this team is 10-1 and I think that is an incredible record for McElwain’s first season at the helm. However, and this is what the playoff committee is noticing, that record is a little short on quality wins against quality teams. The SEC East has lost nearly all of its early season luster. Georgia and Tennessee are neck and neck for the claim of second best team in the East and neither team is in the top 25 nor should they be there. In fact, Ole Miss is the only ranked team among the 11 teams Florida has played so far. The Gators’ resume is in bad need of some beef and that is available over the next two weeks. But, can Florida win one or both of the games?
I refuse to discuss the comparative abilities between Treon Harris and Will Grier until after the season. It just doesn’t mean anything at this point. In my opinion, losers worry about “what ifs”, winners find a way to deal with “what is”. What is, in this case is that Harris is our only viable option and he’s 4-1 since taking over. Now, the optimist would say that Treon keeps his poise and makes just enough plays to win the game, and I personally view it that way as well. However, the pessimist would say over those five games Florida lost one of those games to an LSU team that doesn’t appear to be nearly as daunting as originally thought, and squeaked by three consecutive games against really bad teams in Vandy, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic. The one decisive win over that stretch was a good looking performance against Georgia in a game that in retrospect Mark Richt may have done Florida a favor by starting Faton Bauta. I am not trying to whiz on anyone’s parade but reality is that the Gators have shown little sign of being among the elite teams in the country down the stretch. They will have to improve a great deal to win either of the next two games.
Florida State is not nearly as concerning as Alabama. Stop Dalvin Cook and you can stop the Noles. I mean, let’s be real here, they lost to a bad GA Tech. Of course, Tech runs that triple-option, perhaps Jimbo Fisher just doesn’t understand what a midline is. The concern coming into this season for the Gator Nation was the offensive line. Jim McElwain and his staff have done an impressive job with smoke and mirrors to get ten wins out of that line, but there is only so much you can do in a magic trick. That line is now banged up and, without any depth to fall back on, they have to keep marching out there and limping through games. This wasn’t a great line to start with and it seems to be getting less effective each game. The running game remained anemic most of the season and with each new game and each new injury along the line Treon has found himself under more and more pressure. Harris needs time to process what is transpiring in a play for the passing game to succeed. He has not been receiving that time on a regular basis. It the line doesn’t somehow improve this week and next, Florida will soon find themselves at 10-3.
We all know that it is the defense that has carried the Gators this far and it will be up to the defense if they are to win either of these next two games. Several great Gator defenders are looking at their last opportunity to win a championship in their college careers. If it is going to happen, they must be very opportunistic in these games. Hopefully, the defensive front is not as banged up as coach Mac claims. The front seven will need to be at their absolute best as they face two of the top Heisman candidates in running backs Dalvin Cook and then Derrick Henry. Neither the Noles nor the Tide are dominant in the passing game. These games become winnable if you can stop the run and generate even a modest offense. A healthy Gator defense can do the first part. God only knows about the latter. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a great Gator offense that I forget what one looks like.
So it comes down to this. Ten wins and a spot in the SEC Champion Game is much more than could have reasonably been expected for this season and that’s already in the back pocket. My advice is to forget about playoff committees and who you need to pull for in other games. That dust will settle where it will and I can virtually promise you that there are multiple surprises left in store for this football season. The FSU game stands on its own merit. This is the in-state rivalry game. It is immensely important regardless of what lies after. Enjoy it. Then win or lose, enjoy the opportunity to play for an SEC Championship next week. Every game is winnable. That one is too. These games do not require style point. This is officially the Just Win Baby portion of the schedule. These are the games that Gator football is all about. Try not to view them with trepidation. You are supposed to be having fun. Happy Thanksgiving and Go Gators.