With their ticket punched for Atlanta, what's left for Florida?
In Year One of the Jim McElwain era, Florida is going to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Gator Nation is feeling good about their coach and about this season, which already can be considered a huge success.
So where does Florida go from here? Having surpassed the goals originally set for the program – remember, they were picked to finish fifth in the SEC East in the preseason – it’s a little unclear what’s left for Florida to accomplish for the rest of the regular season.
Let’s discuss some possibilities:
FIGURE SOME STUFF OUT
During his press conference this week, McElwain reiterated often that his team still has plenty to work on. Coaches say that all the time, but in Florida’s case, it’s particularly true. In the Gators’ surprising nail-biter against Vanderbilt, the weakness of the offensive line again came to light. Quarterback Treon Harris also struggled, particularly out of the pocket. These issues were a factor in UF converting only 3 of 13 third downs and and no successful fourth down conversions, a down where Florida had been excelling.
Perhaps the biggest red flag that popped up against Vanderbilt was ball security. Harris threw an interception and Florida fumbled three times. In fact, two possessions in a row were ended by fumbles. That kind of momentum-killer can become unsalvageable. Even though last Saturday was the Gators’ first game with a negative turnover margin, sloppy play is not how Florida wants to close out its triumphant season.
BEAT FLORIDA STATE
With all of those areas of improvement said, Florida has a very real opportunity when they welcome Florida State to The Swamp on Nov. 28. The Seminoles have won the rivalry game the past two seasons, and at the beginning of the season most people didn’t think the Gators had a real chance of breaking the streak. As SEC Network analyst Clint Stoerner said prior to the season, “Florida State, they’re a national champion-caliber football team. I don’t think Florida is ready for those guys.”
Well, surprise! It turns out that Florida is ready. Florida has now been ranked higher than Florida State for three consecutive weeks. Considering the Gators have made certain to defeat the teams fans particularly care about (think Tennessee and Georgia), they can cap off the season with the cherry on top in the form of beating their most-hated rival.
WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
And since the Gators are going to the SEC Championship, why not try winning it? Because most people didn’t think Florida would even be there, Florida winning the conference was never a consideration. But now it is a potential reality.
Florida winning the title might actually hurt the conference when it comes to the playoff picture. Would a one-loss Florida team leapfrog enough people to get into the four-team playoff? There’s certainly no guarantee of that, and it would like knock Alabama out of the playoff picture as well with a second loss.
I feel like Jim Mora during a press conference whenever I think about putting Florida and the College Football Playoff in the same sentence. But if Florida wins the SEC Championship – and finishes with a 12-1 record – then the Gators would be the conference’s only hope for representation in the playoffs.
It’s unbelievable to imagine that anyone in Gator Nation dreamed of a playoff spot and the beginning of the season, but now here it is, a legitimate possibility. For McElwain and his players, it would be an undeniable symbol of success. For the fans, it’s a sign that the days of dominance may be returning.
Would Florida be the best team to represent the conference? From where things stand now, that answer is no. Alabama has been too impressive, Florida not so much, even while winning. But if Florida does get to that point, and the selection committee deems them worthy, we’ll just have to believe that Florida has what it takes. They have shown more than just flashes of brilliance throughout the course of this season, and are able to rise to the occasion.