GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) After three losses in Southeastern Conference play, all the talk surrounding Florida was about coach Will Muschamp’s future.
Beating rival Georgia changed the conversation.
Now there’s chatter that the Gators – yes, these Gators – could end up in Atlanta for the league title game.
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Don’t laugh. It’s not as farfetched at it might seem.
Florida (4-3, 3-3 SEC) needs to win its final two conference games, beginning Saturday at Vanderbilt, and get some help to win the muddled Eastern Division for the first time since 2009.
”I think that’s something that we’ll have to worry about later just because it’s not completely in our hands,” center Max Garcia said. ”We’re going to need help from other teams getting to the SEC championship. But we want to win out. Guys are saying five straight. It started last week with beating Georgia. So that’s our mentality: five straight, win out and get the best record possible.”
The Gators finish the season against lower division Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 22) and at defending national champion Florida State (Nov. 29).
Although those games could be meaningful, they have no impact on the SEC race.
Plenty of other ones do.
Florida actually needs five specific outcomes to get to Atlanta. Most importantly, Muschamp’s team needs to beat the Commodores (3-6, 0-5) and then knock off South Carolina (4-5, 2-5) the following week.
The Gators also need East-leading Missouri (7-2, 4-1) to drop two of its final three league games – one of them must be at Tennessee on Nov. 22 – and have Georgia (6-2, 4-2) lose either at Kentucky or against Auburn. Mizzou finishes the year at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and against Arkansas.
If all that happens, Florida would clinch a three-way tie by virtue of record within the division.
”At the end of the day, we need to win,” Muschamp said. ”And that’s laser focus on Florida and Vanderbilt for our football team. No scenario matters unless we win.”
The East has been a mess most of the season, beginning with Georgia’s loss at South Carolina in September. The Gamecocks dropped their second game two weeks later to Missouri, which followed that one-point victory in Columbia by getting shutout by the Bulldogs 34-0 at home.
All that chaos kept Florida in the division race, even after losses to Alabama, LSU and Mizzou.
Dominating Georgia gave the Gators hope they could win the whole thing.
”It’s crazy, but if it happens, it happens,” defensive back Brian Poole said.
In the meantime, the only thing Florida can do is worry about itself. With so many outcomes and scenarios in play, there’s no point in watching scoreboards or talking about what could happen.
Muschamp addressed the East race with his players Monday, telling them all they needed to be concerned with is Vanderbilt. He followed that up with reminding everyone that the Commodores upset the Gators 34-17 last year in Gainesville on homecoming.
”That’s not a game you lose,” defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. ”Vanderbilt’s not supposed to come into the Swamp and beat us. So we’ve definitely got it marked on the calendar to beat them.”
And stay in the East hunt.
”It’s not in our hands, but none of that matters if we don’t win out, either,” Garcia said. ”We want to do our part, and that’s winning five straight.”