Florida Gators Football: Evaluating Pre-LSU Bowl Game Possibilities

The Florida Gators football team is on the cusp of glory. With two regular season games remaining, which bowl games could the Gators realistically play in?

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) is congratulated by wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) after he ran with the ball for first down against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what transpires the rest of the way, the Florida Gators will be playing in a bowl game in either December of 2016 or January of 2017. With at least two games remaining on the schedule, however, Florida has an opportunity to improve their standing.

The question is: what are realistic bowl game expectations for the Florida football team?

Florida is currently 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC. It’s secured quality victories over the Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, and South Carolina Gamecocks, and lost to Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks.

Florida finished the 2016 season undefeated at home, but enters the final stretch of the season at 1-2 on the road.

The Gators will close out the 2016 regular season with road games against the LSU Tigers and Florida State Seminoles. That could lead to an appearance in the SEC Championship Game, but Florida’s future will be determined on Saturday, November 19.

With the LSU game and the SEC East Title looming, the Gators’ possibilities are limitless as it pertains to bowl game appearances.

Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs with the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs during the second half at EverBank Field. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TaxSlayer Bowl

Mark Schlabach of ESPN believes the Florida Gators will play the rival Miami Hurricanes in the TaxSlayer Bowl on New Year’s Eve. That bowl game will be held at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.

In other words, Schlabach believes that a rivalry could resume with a neutral venue that remains in-state. There’s not much better than that.

A clash between Florida and Miami would be significant for several obvious reasons. The first is that it’d create bragging rights between two in-state rivals that happen to be two of the most decorated programs in NCAA history.

The bigger long-term effect could be on the recruiting trails, however, as both teams would be auditioning for local prospects.

The TaxSlayer Bowl was formerly known as The Gator Bowl, and for all intents and purposes, it still should be. This could be unlikely for financial reasons, but Florida has a chance to play an in-state game and close out in style.

This bowl game doesn’t guarantee Florida will play Miami, but any win over an ACC opponent would be valuable for recruiting purposes.

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) throws the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Outback Bowl

Brett McMurphy ESPN expects the Florida Gators to represent the SEC against the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the Big Teen in the Outback Bowl. That would be an outstanding opportunity for Florida to prove itself against the other elite conference in college football.

The recruiting implications could be massive and the respect factor could be even stronger if Florida managed to win this high-profile bowl game.

The Outback Bowl is played on January 2 in Tampa, Florida, which would essentially make it a home game for the Gators. That alone would create an exciting opportunity, as Florida could close the season out on a high note in front of local fans.

Led by the dynamic combination of quarterback Tommy Armstrong and running back Terrell Newby, Nebraska would provide one heck of a test.

Regardless of which team Florida would face from the Big Ten, defeating a powerhouse from said conference would be influential. The Big Ten and SEC are producing more contenders than any other conference in the country.

The Outback Bowl may not be a part of the College Football Playoff this season, but it’d still be a wonderful place for Florida to be.

Jan 1, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida Gators band dancers during the second half in the 2016 Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. The Wolverines win 41-7 over Florida to claim the Citrus Bowl Championship. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Citrus Bowl

The Citrus Bowl could potentially land the best SEC team that doesn’t make the College Football Playoff or the Sugar Bowl. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, the Florida Gators could be the team selected to this prestigious bowl game.

It’s possible that Florida would play an ACC team, the more likely turn of events is that the Gators would be matched up with a team from the Big Ten.

Ohio State and Michigan are likely to appear in bigger bowl games, with one projected to appear in the College Football Playoff. That creates a potential matchup between Florida and the Penn State Nittany Lions.

It’s impossible to fairly and accurately project which teams will play in this bowl game, but Florida and Penn State would be one of the most profitable games imaginable.

Beyond the money it’d generate, Florida and Penn State are in similar positions as resurgent powerhouses. Pulling out this victory would help the Gators bring a sense of validity and legitimacy to what could be labeled a successful season.

If nothing else, this would provide Florida with a grand opportunity to make up for the 41-7 shellacking it was on the wrong end of in the Citrus Bowl last season.

Sep 3, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) and defensive back Marcell Harris (26) tackle Massachusetts Minutemen running back Marquis Young (8) during the second half of a football game against the at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators won 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl isn’t a semifinal in the College Football Playoff this season, which means it will pit a Big 12 school against an SEC school. If the Florida Gators defeat the LSU Tigers, and the Auburn Tigers fall to the Alabama Crimson Tide, this could be Florida’s big bowl game.

Bowl games aren’t structured like they were under BCS rules, but winning the Sugar Bowl would still be quite the feat for Jim McElwain.

If Florida defeats LSU and Auburn loses to Alabama, then the Gators would finish with the second-best record in the SEC. Auburn and Florida are both 5-2 in conference play and LSU is 4-2, which makes these final few games the most important of the year.

Florida is also 7-2 overall, while every other SEC team—aside from the 10-0 Alabama Crimson Tide, of course—has at least three total losses.

Florida’s path to finishing higher in the College Football Rankings will be grueling. It’ll play on the road against LSU, again on the road against the Florida State Seminoles, and could face Alabama in the SEC Title Game.

Florida could just as quickly be 7-5 as it could be 10-2, but the Sugar Bowl is and a realistic goal for the Gators.

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive back Teez Tabor (31) walks onto the field before the game against the Missouri Tigers during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

College Football Playoff

The Florida Gators are a long shot to make the College Football Playoff, but it’s not entirely out of the question. Florida’s next two games are against Top 20 teams and a third could be played against the most dominant program in the country.

If the Florida football team were to somehow run the table, then it’d be difficult to deny them an opportunity to play for the national championship.

As previously alluded to, Florida can clinch the SEC East if it defeats the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge or if Tennessee loses. The win would be vital to making the College Football Playoff, especially since it’d set the stage for the Gators to face the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Title game.

If Florida can defeat LSU and the Florida State Seminoles on the road, and then upset Alabama in the SEC Title Game, then the College Football Playoff would be a possibility.

A two-loss team would have a tough time making it, but there are only seven Top 10 teams with one loss. Michigan and Ohio State will play one another and Florida would need to defeat another: the undefeated Crimson Tide.

The likelihood of Florida running the table may be slim, but if Jim McElwain and the Gators somehow do it, then a shot at the national championship could be in order.

Dream big, Florida Gators fans. It’s that time of year.

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