After a painful and surprising loss to Georgia, what remains for the Gators to play for? While expectations are tempered, glory is still within reach.
As the seconds ticked away, I stood in the south end zone, next to my brother, a junior at Florida. I had been through the Zook years as a student, and knew the pain of busted losses which made no sense.
We tried to be logical about this season, saying, "Well, at the beginning of the season, I would have taken 7-1 at the end of October in a heartbeat."
"True," I replied, "But once you're in Championship Mode, it's painful to get out."
Later, my college roommate said, "I had forgotten the pain of losing a game that mattered. It still hurts."
Losing big games always hurts, and for Gator fans, any loss hurts. A loss in a rivalry game, compounded by six urnovers, is maddening. The Gator Nation has been grieving for three days now, which is long enough. So, in the infamous words of [Name Redacted], let's circle the wagons.
Take heart, fellow Swamp Things, in the knowledge that each season Florida won the national championship, it did so after a mid-season loss, and was able to rebound and gain a title shot. Florida is currently No. 7 in the BCS standings, behind four undefeated teams and two one-loss teams. Assuming the Gators run the table in November, here's what needs to happen for the Gators to reach the SEC Championship Game, and the BCS Championship Game in Miami.
Let's take a look at each team which currently sits higher than the Gators.
Significant Games Remaining: @ LSU on 11/3, vs. Texas A&M on 11/10, SEC Championship Game (pending victory against LSU).
Best Chance of Loss: @ LSU - The Tigers will be upset-minded, and South Carolina will attest that playing Death Valley at night is no picnic. Can the Tiger D rattle McCarron enough to set up their offense? If 'Bama survives, watch out for a letdown against Texas A&M the following week.
What Florida Needs: For 'Bama to win out. If the Gators beat an undefeated Alabama in the SECCG, it could be enough to vault them over one undefeated Pac-12 or Big-12 team. Behold the power of the SEC, and tremble.
2. Kansas State Wildcats
Significant Games Remaining: vs. Oklahoma State on 11/3, @ TCU on 11/10
Best Chance of Loss: The Fightin' Snyders have already picked apart a much better spread offense in West Virginia, so I expect them to take care of business at home vs. Okie State. I'm picking the TCU game in Fort Worth as their stupid game to lose, since Gary Patterson's teams play the kind of smart, mistake-free football which is needed against K-State.
What Florida Needs: The Gators need two of the remaining three non-Alabama top four undefeated teams to lose; which two they are do not matter. Kansas State is more likely to lose, based on perceived talent and remaining schedule. But the Wildcats have Bill Snyder, who is arguably the Coach of the Year, and has mastered getting the art of getting players to reach their peak performance each game.
Significant Games Remaining: @ USC on 11/24
Best Chance of Loss: USC, not even close. The Irish should beat up on their next three opponents, their crushing defense making up for the limitations their offense can be prone to (sound familiar?). Matt Barkley and the Trojans have the firepower to overcome some of the mistakes that ND forces on teams.
What Florida Needs: Let's be honest: If the Golden Domers win out, they will play in the title game. Chicago will burn with Irish whiskey-fueled hate if they are withheld from their rightful glory. However, they have more glaring flaws than K-State and Oregon, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. It only takes one turnover-fueled nightmare to bring down a dream season, as Gators know well.
4. Oregon Ducks
Significant Games Remaining: @ USC on 11/3, vs. Stanford on 11/17, @ Oregon State on 11/24
Best Chance of Loss: Ducks fans can calm down about the BCS if they run the table over their next four games. A terrible strength of schedule has kept the neon ninjas from being near the top, but with thre ranked teams coming up, that will change. I'm torn between the USC or Oregon State game being the most dangerous, so I'll just rely on the magic of Mike Riley and how he dangles In-N-Out Burgers in front of his team.
What Florida Needs: Honestly, I don't see them losing any remaining games. The defense is great for the Pac-12, and good even for an SEC defense. (Let's not forget Nick Aliotti's bunch held Cam & Co. to 22 points in the 2010 BCS title game.) I believe it will take an SEC defense to slow down their offense. Florida doesn't particularly need them to lose, but as noted, does need two-thirds of the big undefeateds to go down. I do not believe a one-loss SEC team will have the sway to jump two major-conference undefeateds, especially after last year's backlash.
5. LSU Tigers
Significant Games Remaining: vs. Alabama on 11/3, vs. Miss State on 11/10, SEC Championship Game
Best Chance of Loss: Alabama. They're pretty awesome. But, as mentioned earlier, discount the night voodoo of Death Valley at your own peril.
What Florida Needs: For them to lose to Bama, and get out of the way. A two-loss LSU kicks them out of the running for even a BCS bowl, which is still firmly in the Gators' reach.
Significant Games Remaining: vs. Ole Miss (ugh) on 11/3
Best Chance of Loss: Yes, we all know the Dawgs have dodged the top four teams from the West this year. (Even Arkansas! What a world!) I think I'm more upset about their schedule than the fact they beat UF. But hey, everything was in front of the Gators, and they lost.
Moving on. Georgia's best chance of losing is this week, at home, against Ole Miss. That's right, Gators: Hotty-Toddy-Good-God-Almighty is the war cry this week. Auburn is just plain terrible, but they might muster up enough fight for Gene Chizik's job to beat the Dawgs on the Plains.
What Florida Needs: For Georgia to LOSE LOSE LOSE LOSE LOSE! Each scenario is rendered meaningless unless Georgia loses. To Ole Miss. Or Auburn. I type this with a depressed spirit. Hotty-Toddy-War-Damn-Eagle-this-is-why-we-play-the-games-right?
Best Case Scenario: Teams lose, Gators win the national championship, and there is much rejoicing.
More Likely Scenario: Georgia losing to Ole Miss or Auburn would be a colossal failure on their part, and should not be relied on. Florida wins out, finishes the regular season at 11-1, and plays in the Sugar Bowl. This is why LSU must lose another game. If LSU plays in the SECCG, while one-loss Alabama sits by, the BCS will likely take LSU & Bama as the SEC teams.
Obviously, there is still much to play for, and lots of time for a young team to continue to develop. As we step back from Championship Mode, remember that the Gators were still supposed to be "rebuilding" this year. Of course, we don't care about that now, but the experience players gain throughout these games, and in their reaction to a setback, will be invaluable going in to next season, possibly as a top-two team.
In all kinds of weather, y'all.