In January, Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain stood before thousands of Gators and made a proclamation: When his team returned to Atlanta for the 2017 SEC Championship Game, the Gators would “kick the door down.”
Nearly two full months into the 2017 college football season, it seems very clear that Florida will not even get a chance to do that.
At 3-2 in SEC play, Florida stands behind only undefeated Georgia in the SEC East. But the Gators’ two losses and the lack of another one-loss team in the East — Florida is tied for second with 3-2 South Carolina, and both the Gators and Gamecocks are a half-game ahead of 2-2 Kentucky — mean that even Florida’s clearest path back to Atlanta for a third consecutive SEC Championship Game appearance is a messy one.
The best case for the Gators: Florida runs the table, defeating Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri, to finish at 6-2 in SEC play, and either Auburn or Kentucky upsets Georgia, creating no worse than a three-way tie between Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky at 6-2 that Florida would win by virtue of head-to-head wins over both teams. (Florida would also prevail in any two-way ties against Georgia and Kentucky so long as it wins out and Kentucky beats Georgia.)
Per the projections of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ system housed at Football Study Hall, those possibilities are remote at best.
S&P+ gives Florida a 15 percent chance of beating Georgia, a 54 percent chance of winning at Missouri, and just a 47 percent chance of topping South Carolina. It gives Kentucky just a four percent chance of upsetting Georgia, and Auburn a healthier 48 percent chance of doing so.
Granting the condition that all of those are independent outcomes — which they are and aren’t — allows us to multiply those percentages to come up with the chances that they all occur.
Per those S&P+-derived probabilities, Florida winning out and Georgia falling to Auburn has a 1.8 percent chance of occurring. Florida winning out plus Kentucky downing Georgia? 0.15 percent — implying that Florida’s second-easiest path to Atlanta is one that will only materialize 15 times in 10,000 attempts.
It’s maybe not precisely right to describe those as astronomical odds, but they are close. And it’s worth remembering that even Florida running the table is highly unlikely: S&P+ gives the Gators just a 3.8 percent chance of pulling that off.
But viewed objectively, they mean that either McElwain’s team will fail to do what he loudly said it would — or it will do what he said, against long odds.
Back in January, reacting to McElwain’s guarantee in the hours after it was made, I made a prediction.
McElwain promising his team will “kick the door down” in 2017 is a stirring rallying cry, to be sure — but it’s also an implicit promise to topple Alabama, college football’s reigning dynasty despite a close loss to Clemson in the 2017 National Championship, and the SEC West champion three years running.
If the Gators pull it off, McElwain will look prophetic.
If the Gators can’t, McElwain will look pathetic.
Now, with the odds strongly against Florida’s chances of even playing Alabama in that SEC Championship Game, it sure seems like the latter outcome is quite possible — because, even with all the extenuating circumstances of a withering and wearying fall semester in Gainesville, McElwain’s guarantee was a guarantee, and those tend to get remembered, win or lose.