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Florida vs. Missouri: Gators determined to knock off "champs," take firm hold of SEC East

Florida's not overlooking Missouri. Instead, the Gators have their sights set on the "champs."

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the two decades of the SEC Championship Game's existence, only four teams from the SEC East have gone to it in consecutive years. The trio that first accomplished it — Georgia, Florida, Tennessee — has been widely considered the class of the division in some order since its inception, and combined to win every SEC East title from 1992 to 2009.

The fourth SEC East team to win back-to-back titles is Missouri. And, perhaps more importantly, the Tigers won the last two.

If Florida is going to continue its quest to "restore the order" on Saturday in Columbia, it will require dethroning the champs. The Gators realize this. "Those guys are the champs," Antonio Morrison said this week. "We’re trying to knock them off."

While there are still hurt feelings after consecutive clawings by the Tigers in 2013 and 2014Brian Poole says his sadness after Florida's 2014 loss to Missouri was "probably the worst I’ve ever felt" — it's clear that what's motivating the Gators is a chance to take back the division Florida once ruled.

Florida, after all, won the first five SEC East titles — and 19 seasons after the Gators claimed their fifth, no other SEC East team has made more than five trips to Atlanta 1.

Given that Florida is in the midst of a five-year drought between SEC Championship Game appearances that matches one between 2000 and 2006 as its longest span without one since divisional play began, it's inarguable that winning the East — an accomplishment that eluded both Ron Zook and Will Muschamp, but was something Steve Spurrier's Gators did more often than not, and one that Urban Meyer's Florida teams did three times in six years — would be a significant step toward "restoring the order."

A win at Missouri would go a long way toward an SEC East crown, too. With it, Florida would seem to have a bead on no worse than a 6-2 finish in conference play, given that both South Carolina and Vanderbilt are currently winless in the league.

And should Georgia fall to Tennessee on Saturday in a game that takes place at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, a Florida win at Missouri would set the Gators up for a potential Halloween clincher. A Florida win plus a Georgia loss on Saturday would leave Kentucky (!) as the only team within two games of the Gators in the SEC East, and the Wildcats still have a Thursday night game with Auburn and trips to Mississippi State and Georgia to navigate.

If Florida were to win on Saturday, and beat LSU next weekend, and have Kentucky lose again in October, and have Vanderbilt lose to either South Carolina or Missouri in the interim, all the Gators would have to do to clinch the SEC East is defeat Georgia in Jacksonville. Even if Florida faceplanted with losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina to finish its SEC slate, no team in the East could match the Gators' hypothetical 6-2 record from that scenario without also losing a head-to-head tie-breaker with Florida.

But that all requires getting over the hump at Missouri — and a loss to the Tigers would vault Missouri into a four-way tie for the lead in the East, so it's certainly not as if Gary Pinkel's bunch is going to lie down at Faurot Field.

If Florida wants to ride the easiest road to Atlanta, and to restoring the order in the SEC East, it will require defeating the defending division champions on Saturday.


  1. Florida has made eight trips to Atlanta, with two more SEC Championship Game appearances coming at Legion Field in Birmingham, from back when the SEC was even worse about hiding how the deck has been stacked for Alabama since time immemorial.