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.
Gators strong finish Saturday keeps them atop our rankings
The college football regular season came to an end last week. For some, it was great, and for others, it was horrible. The Gators and UCF rolled to victories over their rivals. FIU continued their winning ways, while their rival FAU clinched the C-USA East and will be hosting the title game.
The Noles got beat down, while their other rival Miami fell flat on their face for the second week in a row. In the NFL, the Bucs were on their way too embarrassing the Jaguars before a QB change softened the blow, while the Dolphins pulled one of the stunners of the NFL season.
With all of these games to unpack, this is how the top 5 looks heading in conference championship week and week 14 of the NFL:
Florida Gators- The Gators have been the most consistent team in the state, both college, and pro. Their only two losses are against the two teams playing for the SEC Championship Game (LSU and Georgia), and both of those teams can still make the playoff.
Florida had their way with Florida State all night Saturday. Taking advantage of missed tackles and a shaky secondary, Kyle Trask threw three touchdown passes. Florida State couldn’t do anything on offense aside from the opening drive, and a long Cam Akers second-half run. The 10-2 Gators will now wait to see where they are sent for a bowl game. They have an outside shot at a “New Year’s Six” game, but even if they fail to gain entry, an 11-win season is still a great one.
FAU Owls- It was simple for FAU: win, and you’re in. They answered the call by beating Southern Miss in the season finale, and now they are C-USA East champions. QB Chris Robinson connected with tight end Harrison Bryant for all three of his touchdowns passes in the 34-17 win. The Owl defense forced five turnovers on the way to the victory.
Next, the Owls will host West champ, UAB Saturday afternoon to decide who will win the Conference outright.
UCF Knights- The Knights ended their regular season by rolling over USF and ending the Charlie Strong era. Dillon Gabriel had 270 yards passing and two touchdowns, and WR Gabe Davis went over 100 yards again, catching both touchdowns. The Knights won’t be heading to the AAC title game or a New Years’ Six bowl game. A 10th win in the bowl, though, is still a good season for the Knights.
A consolation prize for them would be to draw either FSU or Miami in a bowl game for a shot at an in-state power five schools.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- For the second week in a row, the Bucs came away victorious and both road wins were highlighted by excellent defense. They were able to knock Nick Foles out of the game at halftime for poor performance. Foles had just 93 yards passing, an interception and two fumbles.
On offense, the Bucs didn’t have to do much, as Jameis Winston had no touchdowns and no interceptions. Peyton Barber was the running back who was hot, scoring twice one from 15 yards and the other a goal-line touch. The Bucs will look to make it three wins in a row and a home win this week against the Colts.
Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins, yes, the Dolphins, are in our rankings, as they pulled off one of the upsets of the season, defeating the Eagles 37-31.
Devante Parker had an explosive 159 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 365 yards and three touchdowns.
The craziest play, however, came on fourth and goal when punter Matt Haack rolled left and shuffle passed the ball past three eagle defenders to kicker Jason Sanders.
The win puts the Dolphins at three wins, and they have three more winnable games coming up. Once looking like the sure-fire choice for the first pick, the Dolphins are sliding down the draft board towards the 3-6 range.
Gators/Mullen are better version of Harbaugh/Michigan
The Florida Gators under Dan Mullen have become a better version of Michigan. One can say this based on the Gators’ authoritative Peach Bowl win last year, but in fairness to the Wolverines, some of their elite defensive players skipped the bowl to prepare for the NFL Combine or Draft.
When I say that Florida – an easy winner over Florida State 40-17 on Saturday night in The Swamp – is a “better Michigan,” I am not talking about the Peach Bowl last season. I am referring to a bigger picture.
Yes, Florida State is the end-of-season rivalry game for Florida. The Gators have their Thanksgiving weekend rivalry opponent figured out, unlike Michigan. You might be wondering where the comparison lies.
It’s actually a simpler connection than you might think.
Michigan cannot solve the chief rival in its own conference and division. The same is true of Florida. Like Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, Florida and Mullen cannot get past the brick wall known as the Georgia Bulldogs.
Ohio State keeps winning the Big Ten East at Michigan’s expense. The Buckeyes keep locking the Wolverines out of Indianapolis.
Georgia keeps winning the SEC East at Florida’s expense. The Dawgs keep locking the Gators out of Atlanta.
In both cases, one side has the plainly better players. The margin of victory has been substantial the past few years. The real story is not so much the failures of the loser, but how well the winner has built a program and created a high floor.
Ohio State is enjoying a supremely prosperous period in its history, a period on par with Woody Hayes’ great teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s Jim Harbaugh hasn’t done as well as he possibly could at Michigan – we can criticize him for that – but Harbaugh hasn’t exactly been awful, either. He has been a 9- or 10-win coach… which is not much worse than Bo Schembechler.
Michigan shouldn’t be going 0-3 against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. That is true. However, Michigan is not Texas, going 7-5. Michigan is not USC at 8-4. Michigan is not Nebraska, failing to make a bowl. Michigan is not the Florida State program which is a total mess right now.
Michigan could be so much worse.
As we consider Dan Mullen and Florida, then, the Gators are a better Michigan. They do lose to Georgia. They do fail to win their division. They do fail to play for conference championships… but whereas Michigan will not make a New Year’s Six bowl this season, Florida will. Whereas Michigan failed to win 10 games in the regular season, Florida succeeded in reaching that mark.
The Gators did this largely without Feleipe Franks. They did this without Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga for a significant chunk of the season.
Dan Mullen coached his butt off… and yet, because Georgia is clearly better than Florida, it is easy to think the Gators are falling short.
It is no secret that Florida fans – given their first taste of sustained success by Steve Spurrier, and then a second golden era created by Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow – love winning in STYLE. The style points matter to Gator fans.
The Mullen-era teams aren’t amazingly stylish. They certainly look bad against Georgia’s defense. This isn’t the gleaming, glowing, glorious period of conquest and domination the Spurrier or Meyer years were.
Yet, when you look at Florida State – and also at a Miami team which just lost to Florida International and Duke to close its season – the Gators don’t look that bad after all. FSU and The U are 6-6 and going to Shreveport or another off-the-radar bowl location. Florida will play in a Cadillac bowl, and elite bowl, a bowl the Gators expect to play in.
Yes, Georgia is still better, just as Ohio State is relative to Michigan. Yes, division and conference titles need to be won sooner rather than later. Yet, all things considered, Florida has done well with what it has. The key is to create something better and larger, but in 2019, Dan Mullen did not fail.
He is doing a better job than Jim Harbaugh, for sure.