Will Grier suspension should boost Georgia, Kentucky in East title race
Kentucky in the SEC title game? Could happen. Yeah, in football.
No, the sky isn’t falling. Well, maybe in Gainesville.
What’s a disaster for Florida and a setback for the SEC as a whole, could be a huge windfall for East Division foes Kentucky and Georgia (two-loss Tennessee must play at Alabama and two-loss Missouri must play Georgia and Mississippi State).
And No. 5 LSU as well.
The SEC East, which the Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) seemed destined to win after whipping Missouri 21-3 on Saturday, now seems up for grabs. A two-loss team, especially Georgia, could sneak in and seize the trip to Atlanta.
There’s good reason to believe that what had been a much-improved Florida offense might fall back into some of its 2014 problems with 2014 QB Treon Harris once again running the attack.
Why are the Gators so much better in 2015? On the sidelines, Jim McElwain has made a huge difference. But on the field, nobody’s more responsible than Will Grier.
Compare Grier’s stats through six games to Harris’ stats last season.
Harris completed 55 of 111 passes (49.5 percent) with nine touchdowns and four interceptions, averaging only 113.2 yards for a 7-5 (4-4 SEC) Gators team. He had a 113.2 QB rating and averaged 9.2 yards per attempt.
Not counting Harris, six of the Gators’ starters on offense this season started last season. That includes all three wide receivers and doesn’t count RB Kelvin Taylor, who was a backup last year.
Through six games this season, Grier completed 106 of 161 passes (65.8 percent) for 1,204 yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions. He owns a 145.4 QB rating and averages 7.43 yards per attempt.
Anybody who has watched the Gators this season knows Grier has made a major difference.
Simply, Grier gives the Gators a more accurate passer capable of hitting receivers downfield and keeping defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage.
At Monday’s news conference, Florida coach Jim McElwain did his best to stay positive about continuing toward a division title with Harris.
“We have two really good quarterbacks,” McElwain said. “We’ve got a package for another one. This is not an excuse. Things happen in life.”
Defenses, beginning with LSU on Saturday in Death Valley, are going to force Harris to prove he can throw the ball before abandoning a stop-the-run strategy. It’s up to Harris to keep the Gators offense rolling.
So let’s look at the SEC’s potential big winners in the Grier suspension:
LSU: A fast, aggressive Tigers defense faces a vulnerable Florida offense led by Harris, who hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since a Sept. 12 victory over East Carolina. The Tigers, who will face a backup QB for the fourth straight game, get another break against their toughest East foe, in a game that may be important in an eventual West tiebreaker.
Georgia: If Florida loses at LSU, the slumping Bulldogs could pull into a tie — provided they beat Missouri on Saturday — in the loss column with the Gators with a Halloween victory in Jacksonville and own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Georgia’s SEC schedule from there includes only Kentucky, Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Kentucky: The Wildcats’ only loss was to the Gators. If the Gators lose to LSU and Georgia, Kentucky would win the division by sweeping through Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt — none of the West superpowers — left on the schedule.
But don’t count the Gators out. They are definitely capable of beating LSU and Georgia with Harris. Plus, a 6-2 SEC record is probably the worst they could do. Following games against LSU and Georgia, the Gators face only Vanderbilt and South Carolina in conference play.