When the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs meet on Saturday in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party — more on that later today — they will do so as top-10 teams, at least according to the Associated Press.
If Florida beats Georgia, Florida will become the favorite to win the SEC East, needing only to win out in its SEC contests and have Kentucky lose somewhere along the way to make it to Atlanta.
If Florida does that, it will be impossible not to consider the Gators College Football Playoff contenders — not least because they would have the same win over Georgia that has lifted LSU into that conversation, but at a neutral site rather than in friendly home environs, plus a win over LSU.
And if Florida wins out in its regular season — something the Gators may be close to being favored to do should they win on Saturday — then the SEC Championship Game will almost certainly serve as a College Football Playoff play-in game for Dan Mullen’s team.
This is what being a very good or great Florida team that wins most or all of its games on Saturdays in a fall grants the Gators: The chance to be champions.
This is always there for this team when it is good.
It was there, sort of, two years ago, as Florida went to Jacksonville with a 5-1 record and emerged with a 6-1 mark, before a terrible November snapped the Gators’ jaws shut. It was there, remarkably, three years ago, as a new head coach steered a team out of the wake of a four-win season and got to 10-1, with a remarkable win over Georgia on the way. It was there six years ago, when Florida went to Jacksonville undefeated and left with little of its own destiny — at least, where that destiny concerned championships — in its hands.
Florida getting to Jacksonville without two losses gives Florida a chance to make a championship run. Florida did that this year.
Florida getting out of Jacksonville without two losses means that run is on.
We don’t know whether this team has the firepower to stay with Georgia, or the defense to stymie a Bulldogs team that has had two weeks to lick its wounds since falling to LSU. Georgia’s got talented players essentially everywhere, and those players recall a 42-7 beatdown in Jacksonville last year.
But Florida’s players remember that, too. And Florida’s players, slowly but surely, seem to be working toward Mullen’s “Gator Standard,” the one most fans remember most fondly.
Florida has a chance to compete for titles this year, and to be nationally relevant in a way it has only rarely been since Mullen first left Gainesville.
It has to win on Saturday to make good on that.