Do ugly wins signal an ugly finish for the Gators?
How good is Florida?
A legitimate SEC championship and College Football Playoff contender, or a better-than-average team sliding through a weak schedule?
No doubt, the Gators have won ugly. But defensive-oriented teams often do.
A 9-1 record (7-1 in the SEC) is impressive, regardless the division. Still, the Gators’ results are far from awe-inspiring. So while recognizing the glittery record, the two major polls and the College Football Playoff rankings put the Gators at No. 8, fourth highest among one-loss teams.
Florida will get a chance to prove itself in its final two scheduled games against Florida State and the SEC West champion followed by either a berth in the Playoff or in a bowl game.
If the Gators win out, including a victory on Saturday against Florida Atlantic, they should land in the Playoff.
If they lose to FSU and the West champion, they could tumble behind LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the rankings and conference bowl selection order.
So there’s a lot at stake — for Florida and the SEC. A loss to FSU and a victory in the conference title game would knock the SEC out of the Playoffs.
Looking a little closer at Florida’s record, there’s plenty of reasons to doubt the Gators.
The Gators lost their toughest game — at LSU. And they had good timing in several matchups.
The Gators caught Tennessee early in The Swamp before the Volunteers got untracked. And they got some help from Vols coach Butch Jones, who made two critical mistakes down the stretch.
Coach Jim McElwain waited until Monday after a game against a tough Missouri defense to suspend Will Grier despite apparent knowledge the quarterback was under investigation for PED usage.
Florida caught Georgia near the height of its turmoil. Mark Richt started previous third-teamer Faton Bauta at quarterback after the Bulldogs managed only three field goals the week before in front of a disenchanted crowd at Sanford Stadium.
Some of the Gators’ other victories weren’t very convincing, either.
The Gators beat East Carolina (4-6) by a touchdown in The Swamp. Two weeks ago, they needed injured kicker Austin Hardin’s career-long field goal to slip past Vanderbilt, also at home. Last Saturday, they slogged past coach-less, quarterback-challenged South Carolina by 10 points.
And the Gators’ best victory — a 38-10 romp over Ole Miss — isn’t nearly as impressive as it was back in early October when the Rebels were fresh off their victory in Tuscaloosa.
Still, it’s hard to argue with 9-1 in the SEC. The Gators beat seven SEC teams. Their only loss was a hard-fought 35-28 loss at Death Valley when LSU was unbeaten and Leonard Fournette seemed unstoppable.
The Gators have a championship defense allowing only 14.5 points and 280 yards per game. They’ve held four SEC opponents under 10 points. Plus, they’ve given the offense 21 turnovers.
Offense is a potential problem. The Gators combined for only 33 points in their past two victories. The offensive line is young and lacks depth. Kelvin Taylor is averaging only 3.85 yards per carry. Treon Harris hasn’t shown any consistency throwing downfield.
Plus, the kicking game is shaky. Hardin is only 5 of 9 on field-goal attempts. Three kickers, including Hardin, have combined to miss four extra-point attempts.
The Gators lack style points. They’ve been good at winning ugly. But they’ll look pretty good if they beat FSU then win the SEC championship.
We’ll have to wait a few weeks to find out whether the Gators are a great team or just a good one with a knack for winning ugly.