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Gators to the “New Year’s Six?” They deserve it

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Viewed from a national perspective, it seems hard to believe that the Florida Gators are the ninth-best team in the United States.

West Virginia and a certain former Gator quarterback named Will Grier would love to get their mitts on the Gators. So would Washington State, a 10-2 team which might get left out of the “New Year’s Six” bowl rotation altogether. Texas and Tom Herman probably think they could win a shootout against UF. The same applies to Syracuse. Utah — which never got to play Florida in a plus-one game for the 2008 national title the Gators won — would love to meet Florida and see where the two teams stand.

Yet, as much as any of those teams might complain (of them, only Washington State has a legitimate gripe, given that it lost fewer games this season), it remains clear: Florida picked the right year in which to go 9-3.

The Gators weren’t a great team this year. Against Georgia, Missouri, and in the first 2.5 quarters against South Carolina, they were a bad team. Yet, in 2018, becoming a very good team was hard to do across the country.

Here is the statistic which explains why Florida is in a New Year’s Six game after the final Tuesday night rankings show put the Gators at No. 9, well inside the cut line for NY6 inclusion: Only two Power Five teams went 10-2 through 12 games.

That’s right: Only Washington State and Michigan went 10-2 among Power Five teams. The Mountain West had three 10-2 teams. Cincinnati went 10-2 in UCF’s American Conference. The Buffalo Bulls of the MAC went 10-2. Among power conference teams, however, the 10-2s were hard to find. The playoff contenders live in their own realm, but after that small cluster, there wasn’t much of an upper middle class.

The ACC had only one team with fewer than three losses. Same in the Big 12. Same in the Pac-12. The Big Ten had only two teams with fewer than three losses.

Going 9-3 this season put Florida and many other teams into a rather large basket. Florida benefited from its brand name and its SEC identity… and it also touted the poker-chip win over LSU.

Kentucky fans will say that they defeated Florida and should be in the NY6 instead of the Gators, and they have a reasonable point.

The counterargument: The Wildcats merely needed to beat 5-7 Tennessee — non-bowl-game Tennessee, not-very-good Tennessee — to make a New Year’s Six game. They not only lost, but got blown out.

If you do not live in the state of Florida or don’t care what happens to teams in the state of Florida, I totally understand why you might be upset that Florida will play in a New Year’s Six bowl… but the Gators are NOT the example of what’s wrong with the bowl system.

It’s Penn State.

The Nittany Lions, like Florida, went 9-3, but they don’t have anything close to UF’s win over LSU. Penn State’s best road win: at 7-5 Pittsburgh. Florida won at 8-4 Mississippi State. The Gators’ resume is clearly and objectively better than the Lions’ portfolio. Yet, PSU is — based strictly on Tuesday’s new playoff committee rankings — in line for an NY6 bowl, quite possibly as Florida’s opponent in the Peach Bowl if certain results occur on Conference Championship Weekend.

If you are a Washington State fan or any person upset that the 10-2 Cougars might get left out of the NY6 dance card, be upset at Penn State. This — unlike national elections — is NOT a Florida problem.

The Gators simply picked the perfect year to go 9-3… and they received timely help from Tennessee, of all teams. Imagine that.

When this regular season is remembered, Florida will look back on it and realize that it made a New Year’s Six game because it didn’t get down on itself in its worst moments.

The Gators lost to Kentucky and looked like a 6-6 team in the making. They dusted themselves off and won at Mississippi State, followed by the LSU conquest.

The Gators trailed Vanderbilt by 18 in a classic ambush game. They didn’t pout. They got mad, got even… and then won.

The Gators played those 10 terrible quarters against Georgia, Mizzou, and South Carolina, but stormed back against the Gamecocks to dig out a 35-31 win which ultimately made the difference between a great bowl and a good bowl.

In most seasons, this would not have been a New Year’s Six-worthy campaign, but with only two 10-2 teams in the realm of the Power Five conferences, the Gators — clearly better than the Penn State team they might face one month from now — put themselves in position to benefit.

Seven is supposed to be a lucky number, but the Gators’ No. 9 ranking has them in position to experience the sweet smell of six-scented success. Don’t blame the Gators for collecting this prize — this year in college football, other teams simply weren’t ready to claim it.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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