If there’s a college football team in the country more disappointing this season than Florida, I’m hard-pressed to think of who it might be. Last season, the Gators were disappointed not to play for the national championship, and couldn’t be troubled to show up for the Sugar Bowl, a game in which they were routed by Louisville.
Maybe the 2013 season will lead Florida to appreciate its major bowl opportunities, because barring a big upset, the Gators are going to miss out on bowl eligibility altogether.
Florida has lost four straight games and fallen to 4-5 on the season. Losses to Missouri, LSU and Georgia weren’t embarrassing, but they exposed the team’s continued offensive deficiencies. The injury to quarterback Jeff Driskell early in the season was, at best, a marginal excuse. Driskell rarely threw for big yardage and often struggled to play mistake-free.
The emptiness of that excuse was then laid bare last week against Vanderbilt. The Commodores, a program that doesn’t have access to the rich recruiting harvest of the Sunshine State, was also playing without its starting quarterback. It didn’t stop Vandy from putting a 34-17 smackdown on Florida, in Gainesville, no less.
Florida now has to either beat South Carolina or beat Florida State. At least the latter is at home and it’s a big rivalry game where strange things can happen. But this would be stranger than strange, if the Gators can stop the Seminoles this year.
And as unbelievable as it would have seemed in August, TheSportsNotebook’s SEC bowl projections with three weeks left in the regular season do not include Florida.
Elsewhere on the margins of the SEC bowl picture, Vanderbilt (5-4) needs one more win and a schedule with home games against Kentucky and Wake Forest leave the Commodores well-positioned to get it. Vandy also visits Tennessee, and that’s a game the Vols have to win. At 4-6, Tennessee needs to sweep Vanderbilt and Kentucky to make it. Mississippi State also needs to win twice. If we write off this week’s home game with Alabama, the Bulldogs will need to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Ole Miss.
THE BOWL PICTURE AT THE TOP
Both division races are still in flux right now, as is the race for an at-large bid to the BCS, something the SEC will surely get. The West is the easy division to figure–it’s going to be Alabama or Auburn. If the Tigers beat Georgia on Saturday, then the November 30 ‘Bama-Auburn game will be a head-to-head showdown to decide the division champ. If Auburn should lose to Georgia, then Alabama will wrap up the title by beating Mississippi State.
The East race is a little more interesting. Missouri leads South Carolina and Georgia by a game, and the Tigers still have to visit Ole Miss and host Texas A&M. The good news for Missouri is that the hold the tiebreakers in a three-way situation. The three contenders split head-to-head and Mizzou has the better record within the SEC East.
If Missouri should lose twice, Georgia then controls the race thanks to their Week 2 win over South Carolina. The Gamecocks need Missouri to lose both games and Georgia to lose to Auburn. Taken individually, that’ s all possible, but it’s a lot to have to go right.
South Carolina and Texas A&M might be up against it in the race for division titles, but both are in position to finish 10-2 and have a shot at the SEC’s at-large bid to the BCS. I’ve been projecting Auburn for this spot, but if the Aggies beat LSU and Missouri, while Auburn loses to Georgia and creates a field of 10-2 teams, you have to think the Sugar Bowl will be favorably disposed to Johnny Manziel on Bourbon Street for New Year’s. South Carolina’s best shot is for A&M to lose one of their games (likely, given the A&M defense) and Auburn to lose at least once, and perhaps twice.
LSU and Ole Miss are both lined up for a midlevel bowl game, although LSU could rise as high as the Cotton if they win out.
Here’s how TheSportsNotebook sees the SEC bowl projections shaking out…
BCS Automatic: Alabama (BCS National Championship Game, vs. Florida State)
BCS At-Large: Auburn (Sugar, vs. Oklahoma)
Capital One: South Carolina (vs. Wisconsin)
Cotton: Texas A&M (vs. Texas)
Outback: Missouri (vs. Michigan State)
Chick-Fil-A: Georgia (vs. Miami)
Gator: LSU (vs. Michigan)
Music City: Ole Miss (vs. Maryland)
Liberty: Vanderbilt (vs. East Carolina)
BBVA Compass: Tennessee (vs. Cincinnati)
Advocare V100: No eligible team, could be taken by Miss State or Florida (vs. Boston College)