Two weeks ago, after Florida dumped Missouri and moved to 5-1 on the season, I wrote that the Gators were in for a likely top-10 ranking, whether they deserved it or not.
On Saturday, the Gators took care of business, and Georgia, in Jacksonville, and more than enough carnage happened to make that a certainty.
Florida entered this weekend as the No. 12 team in the USA TODAY Coaches poll, and the No. 14 team in the AP Top 25. Then the roadblocks to the top 10 in front of the Gators in both polls got wrecked: Four teams that sat in front of Florida in the coaches’ poll fell, while six of the seven teams ranked immediately in front of Florida in the AP poll lost.
And two other top-20 teams in the AP poll lost, too, while four other top-20 coaches’ poll teams suffered defeats. Barring a Christian Taylor-esque leap by Western Michigan, there’s essentially no way the Gators won’t rise into the top 10 in both polls, probably at No. 8 or No. 9.
Florida is one of just six one-loss Power 5 teams, and there are only four remaining undefeated Power 5 teams, so unless the Gators get slotted behind the unbeaten Broncos and all but two other one-loss Power 5 teams — a cadre including Baylor, West Virginia, and Nebraska, all of whom are coming off losses — and two-loss Wisconsin, which has a tremendous résumé, they will not be outside the top 10 when polls are released Sunday afternoon.
But Florida could conceivably be in the top 10 on Sunday and out of it on Tuesday, when the College Football Playoff’s selection committee issues its first rankings.
That committee has demonstrated, time and again, that it does not consistently use the polls as a framework, and so Florida can’t benefit from the same propensity for inertia it does with the coaches and AP voters. Instead, the committee is likely to weigh résumés and use “the eye test” to craft its hierarchy.
Florida is obviously a cinch to be behind all four unbeatens in those rankings, meaning it could start no higher than No. 5. The Gators will also assuredly sit behind Louisville and Ohio State, each of whom has at least one beatdown of a likely Playoff-ranked team, and behind Texas A&M, which has more quality wins — at Auburn, over Arkansas and Tennessee — to date.
From there, things get a whole lot more murky.
For my money, Florida’s best win is still one over Kentucky — whose best win is at Missouri, a 2-6 team that has been more than doubled up in SEC play. Wisconsin’s got at least two better wins, over Nebraska and LSU, and its two losses are by touchdowns to top-six teams Michigan and Ohio State. Oklahoma has losses to Houston and Ohio State, but is also undefeated in the Big 12. Nebraska, Baylor, and West Virginia may have played soft schedules to date, but their best wins — Oregon or at Northwestern, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State — could arguably top a win over Kentucky.
I think Wisconsin’s very likely to be ahead of Florida in the Playoff rankings, and I would be utterly unsurprised to see two of Baylor, Nebraska, and West Virginia in front of the Gators, too. Hell, Western Michigan’s best win — at Northwestern, just like Nebraska’s — is over a team S&P+ liked better than Kentucky as of last week, and the Broncos didn’t blow a 21-0 lead in their nonexistent loss. Auburn’s only losses are to Clemson and Texas A&M, and Auburn has wins over LSU, Arkansas, and Mississippi — whose five losses are to Florida State, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn, all top-25 teams in my view — to its name.
Put simply: Florida’s lack of a marquee win is going to be its bête noire in these initial College Football Playoff rankings, and may keep a team that should be no lower than No. 8 or No. 9 in this week’s polls outside the top 10 in the selection committee’s eyes.
That’s not going to be a long-term issue if the Gators keep winning, as their path to the Playoff still runs through both road games at three ranked teams in the regular season and a showdown with unbeaten Alabama or top-10 Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Florida being outside the top 10 on November 1 could be logically defended; a band of one-loss SEC champion Gators being left out of the Playoff field, when that feat alone would mean there could be no more than three unbeaten Power 5 teams, would be doubtlessly ludicrous.
Either way, this is the beginning of the hype I wrote that the Gators would accrue — if not necessarily earn — as November dawned. Their month of traveling to see ranked foes on the road may be a welcome to the jungle, but if Florida can make a November reign happen, patience should make it clear that any appetite for destruction of the Playoff selection committee fans may have on Tuesday was just using an illusion, and increasing proximity to a paradise city will be the reward.
(I’m not sorry to anyone but Axl Rose.)