Florida wasn’t all that impressive in its 40-14 win over Missouri, a game that produced a box score filled with misleading numbers. But the Gators got two more misleading ones affixed to them on Sunday, as this week’s college football rankings dropped, slotting Florida in at No. 12 in the USA TODAY coaches poll and No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25.
And, well: Florida might be a top-10 team — in the coaches’ poll, anyway; the AP Poll is seemingly staffed by enough smart people to keep the Gators in the mid-teens, where they probably belong — by the time it plays Georgia two days before Halloween, and will almost certainly be one by November if it can top the Dawgs.
The bye the Gators will enjoy this weekend means that they cannot move up by dint of their own work. That’s fine: It wasn’t as if Florida did much to deserve elevation in wins over Vanderbilt and Missouri, or in any of its other games. (Florida’s five wins this season have come against teams that are a combined 12-20 on the year, or 12-15 in their games against teams other than Florida; none is better than 3-3 on the season.)
But Florida also can’t lose. And while it’s not that hard to imagine the Gators getting jumped by unbeaten No. 13 West Virginia or No. 14 Boise State — both teams with challenges to face this week, in the form of TCU and BYU — the coaches’ poll is notorious for often nonsensical inertia. (Its entire Week 8 top 10 remained the same as Week 7’s, in fact, despite Clemson and Ohio State needing overtime to escape with wins — and Wisconsin losing its second game, making the Badgers a two-loss top-10 team stationed ahead of three undefeated outfits.)
No. 12 is quite possibly as low as they Gators will go in the USA TODAY poll before seeing Georgia. And for Florida to move up in the coaches’ poll, it will probably need losses from some of the 11 teams ahead of them.
Week 8 isn’t likely to provide those losses. The only teams in the coaches’ poll’s top 11 both playing and on the road are: No. 6 Texas A&M, which travels to Alabama, but might still stay ahead of the Gators even with a loss, as long as the Aggies avoid annihilation; No. 10 Wisconsin, which treks to sleepy Iowa; and No. 11 Houston, which visits SMU. Florida probably needs those latter two losses to get into the top 10, and while I don’t think that’s an outlandish ask, it’s also not particularly likely.
Week 9, though, might be ripe for carnage.
It’s guaranteed to produce at least one loss for a team currently ahead of Florida, because No. 8 Nebraska visits Wisconsin. No. 5 Washington might be really susceptible to defeat, too, with a tough road trip to No. 19 Utah. No. 3 Michigan (at Michigan State), No. 4 Clemson (at No. 13 Florida State), No. 7 Louisville (at Virginia), and No. 9 Baylor (at Texas) are all on the road. Houston has to deal with a volatile, high-scoring UCF team. Even if West Virginia slides ahead of the Gators next Sunday, the Mountaineers have to go to Oklahoma State in two Saturdays.
It is simply not hard at all to envision a 6-1 Florida team in the coaches’ poll’s top 10 by the beginning of Week 10. And that could quite possibly translate to a top-10 ranking in the College Football Playoff’s initial release, which comes on November 1.
Florida would have gotten there by having had the good fortune — y’know, because of a hurricane — to play just two games outside the Sunshine State before November, and see only one ranked team over the season’s first two months. It is entirely possible that Florida would emphatically not deserve such a ranking in many eyes; I expect that I’d write about that.
But it’s also true that, if Florida wins out — including in the SEC Championship Game — it will almost certainly make the College Football Playoff.
The Gators would almost certainly have to knock off three ranked teams — Arkansas, Florida State, and then an SEC West champion that will be ranked — to run the table, and could take down four if LSU can hang around the periphery of the top 25 for long enough. That would build up the Gators as a strong one-loss SEC champion.
There is a doomsday scenario for SEC exclusion from the Playoff, though, and it is a scary one, sure. Undefeated Clemson and Washington could occupy two spots, an undefeated Big Ten team could take a third, and there could be an undefeated Big 12 team and one-loss Big Ten and ACC teams whose only losses were to conference champions from their own division.
But Florida is the SEC’s most likely one-loss Playoff participant, I think, because one-loss Alabama and Texas A&M would necessarily have lost later in the year than the Gators did, and because their one loss is far more likely to prevent a conference title.
And the doomsday scenario is just as wildly unlikely as any other scenario at this point, with literally dozens of games still left to be played. And, of course, none of this matters until those games themselves, and it can and will all evaporate as soon as the Gators lose.
Between now and that loss, though, there will be hype. There is always hype. Nature abhors a vacuum, and hype fills it so well.
You shouldn’t roll your eyes too hard when you see segments like this, basically.
There will be more where that came from, after all. And your eyes might get tired.