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Friday Forum: Can Florida have a successful season if it falls to South Carolina?

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This weekend’s game feels especially treacherous to me.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine this: The Florida Gators welcome a Willie Taggart-coached Florida State team to The Swamp for the first time, drop half a hundred on the beleaguered Seminoles, and improve to nine wins on the year ... but don’t have SEC Championship Game or College Football Playoff plans after that game.

It’s a real possibility, and maybe the most likely one for these Gators even if they win on Saturday at South Carolina. As of now, it appears likely that Florida will be an underdog — maybe a small one — in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and its trip to Missouri. If the Gators win the games they’re supposed to and fall in the ones they’re tabbed to from here on in, that’s probably good for a 9-3 record mirroring their 2018 finish in the regular season.

And I could argue that that would be a successful season, I think. Florida would have beaten Auburn, Florida State, and Miami in the same season for the first time since 1985, and gone undefeated at home — against a schedule featuring those first two teams and Tennessee — for the first time since 2016. A big win over FSU would do a lot to maintain or regain momentum in late November, too.

But Florida losing close games to LSU, Georgia, and Missouri while also coughing up a road game to South Carolina? I think that changes the calculus a bit.

The one loss of the Dan Mullen era still stuck in many Florida fans’ craws is the Gators’ loss to Missouri a year ago. Florida, coming off a loss to Georgia that seemed to linger, looked listless for much of that game, and got diced up by Drew Lock and a locked-in Tigers team as a result.

And so that loss has come to seem like a failing of Mullen’s staff to properly motivate his players, one that we’ve heard echoes of this week as the Gators are coming off their first loss of the 2019 season and hoping to rebound. I don’t think 2019 South Carolina is a match for 2018 Missouri — upset over Georgia aside, this hasn’t been a good South Carolina team — but I do worry a bit that going on the road and playing at noon will be challenges for Florida.

And that makes me wonder if this season’s grip on success — which seems tight at the moment, but could turn tenuous in a hurry if Florida has a 2-4 stretch — can sustain South Carolina loosening it.

So: Your thoughts?