The latest College Football Playoff rankings from Tuesday elevated Florida to No. 8, the program's new best ranking. The Gators didn't jump as far as they could have, though, because Oklahoma jumped them after an impressive win at Baylor, which the Playoff selection committee thought enough of to install the Sooners at No. 7 nationally.
And that should worry Florida fans.
Oklahoma leads Florida by a nose, for now
Last Saturday's results, topped by the Sooners' win in Waco, didn't change all that much for the Gators. At least one of Notre Dame and Stanford was always going to end up with two losses, at least one of Stanford and Utah was going to end up with two losses, and there was always going to be no more than one undefeated Big 12 team.
But the thinking all year, and especially from the last two weeks of rankings, is that the Big 12 sits somewhere behind the SEC in the pecking order of conferences, and thus that the Big 12's champion would be aced out by the SEC's champion. Oklahoma sneaking past Florida forces us to reconsider that.
Oklahoma's biggest win is that one at Baylor, and it's certainly a bigger win at this point than Florida's over Mississippi. The Sooners have also been playing extraordinarily well of late:
OU itself has been incredible since the awful trip to the Cotton Bowl on October 10. The Sooners have won five straight by an average score of 55-17, and while the competition level wasn't amazing before the trip to Waco ... well ... Baylor's good. The Bears had won the last two meetings against OU by a combined 89-26 and had never lost at McLane Stadium.
Ranking the Sooners ahead of Florida, which has recently been less convincing in wiping out the weak SEC East and often struggled on offense with Treon Harris at quarterback, is defensible now.
It may be logical to do at season's end, too.
Florida can still take down Alabama and Florida State, likely adding two wins against then-"top-15" teams to its stack of less impressive ones, and the selection committee's made no secret of its love of Alabama. The Sooners, though, could sweep a hellacious November slate that sends them to Waco and Stillwater to knock off undefeated teams, with only a home game against TCU in between — and it certainly seems like they have a better chance of impressing in those wins than Florida does.
What an Oklahoma-Florida comparison might come down to isn't the worse loss — Oklahoma's to Texas at full strength at a neutral site is going to be worse than Florida's at LSU just five days after Will Grier's suspension was announced, no matter what — but how much credit the committee would give Florida for beating Alabama versus how much credit would be awarded for beating TCU and Oklahoma State.
Of course, Oklahoma's rise does point to another thing that might work for Florida.
Notre Dame lost ground despite staying No. 4
A hypothetical, refreshed and tweaked for you:
Clemson wins out. Ohio State or Iowa wins out, and impresses by beating Michigan and/or Michigan State soundly. Oklahoma State wins out and ends up as an undisputed and unbeaten Big 12 champion after holding off Baylor and Oklahoma. Notre Dame wins out, knocking off a lesser Stanford on its way. Florida wins out, beating top-15 Florida State before knocking off Alabama in Atlanta.
Clemson's obviously in. The Big Ten undefeated is in. Oklahoma State is in. But does the committee take Notre Dame, or does it take a conference champion?
And if Oklahoma continues its rise and wins the Big 12, does the committee take the conference champion that lost to Texas or the independent that didn't go unbeaten in its "conference" yet still waxed Texas?
And isn't that the debate, really, given how clean it would be to simply install the SEC champion in the Playoff?
I wrote this last week:
I think the SEC's brand name goes a long way. I think conference championships matter a whole lot to the selection committee, which last year's Playoff field of champions made clear. But I also think Notre Dame can beat out one-loss Power Five champions this year, and so I'm worried about Florida being one of them if there are also three unbeaten Power Five champions.
If there are only two unbeaten Power Five champions, the selection committee's choosing its remaining two teams from a pool of the champions of the Big Ten or Big 12, the SEC, and the Pac-12, and Notre Dame. And given that the only team left that could finish with one loss and boast a win over Alabama in that scenario would be Florida, I like the Gators' chances of being the No. 3 team in that scenario, and leaving the committee to pick between other teams for the No. 4 spot.
Florida is also well-positioned for chaos
Clearly, the best possible scenario for Florida is winning out and getting some opportune losses. But the Gators may also be more resistant to losses by teams previously conquered than any teams other than Clemson and Alabama.
Clemson's been safely entrenched atop the rankings because of both its goose egg under L in the standings, and because of its two big wins over Notre Dame and Florida State. Alabama's ridiculous strength of schedule is helping buoy the Tide. And if Florida wins out and beats Alabama, the Gators probably inherit at least a significant amount of the esteem granted to Nick Saban's team.
But there's no guarantee Ohio State gets to play an unbeaten Iowa, nor one that Iowa gets to play an unbeaten Ohio State. There's no guarantee Bedlam pits unbeaten Cowboys against once-beaten Sooners. And Notre Dame's hypothetical big win over Stanford could be over a four-loss team by the time the selection committee convenes for the final time.
And while there's no guarantee Florida's seeing one-loss Alabama and two-loss Florida State, either, those prospects are more likely, if only slightly so, than many others. If things go sideways in these final few weeks of the season, Florida is far more likely to benefit from that chaos than to be disadvantaged by it.