Look, let’s be honest: Whatever happens on the field for the rest of the 2022 season for the Florida Gators football team is unlikely to matter all that much beyond this season.
Florida is 4-4, and needs two wins over some mix of Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida State to earn bowl eligibility — though, one reckons, the glut of bowls might be great enough that a 5-7 Florida team might be given the great honor of being one side of an ESPN-run bowl to make sure that all-important late-December TV slot is filled. Getting to play in a bowl would give Florida’s coaches a chance to go through the vaunted bowl practices that the sages of college football have all decreed are crucial to the development of a team, rarely even broaching the possibility that a bunch of young men might actually prefer to be at home for the holidays during a break between semesters, and that any football practices during that time might have diminishing returns if a team is not immediately vying for a national championship.
Florida beating any or all of the four teams left on its slate still has some value, too. Beat Vanderbilt and the Gators assuredly haven’t crated. Beat South Carolina and they’ve arranged the pecking order in the SEC East a bit more to your liking. Beat Florida State and Billy Napier sits atop the Sunshine State pecking order after Year 1.
But beating Texas A&M — and longtime foe Jimbo Fisher — might actually be the sweetest win left on Florida’s schedule.
A&M is not really a Florida rival, not even with the three trips to College Station and the oddly significant games that have taken place between the teams. (Florida gave Johnny Manziel his first loss; Texas A&M’s visit to Florida in 2017 was for the game in which Florida dressed like a bad episode of Duck Dynasty; the Aggies’ 2020 upset of Florida may have prevented an showdown of unbeaten Florida and Alabama teams for an SEC title, and certainly peeved Dan Mullen; this year’s game finds Fisher’s job security dwindling despite a colossal contract.) But Fisher is a Florida nemesis, with just one loss to the Gators dating back to his days at FSU, and Florida fans have as little love for him as any college football coach currently stalking a sideline.
There’s little doubt that Florida fans who care enough to check in on ol’ Jimbo have reveled in these Aggies’ ridicule-ready season, too. Losing to Appalachian State and South Carolina? Both Mississippi schools? To Alabama with a backup QB rolling for the Tide, a year after the supposed program breakthrough of topping Nick Saban’s team? And doing all this while immiserating Miami? It’s been a rough year in College Station, and Florida making sure the regular season won’t end with A&M over .500 would be fun for the Gators.
But there’s also very little beyond incrementally increasing that misery — and Jimbo’s — available to Florida today. Getting to 5-4 makes getting to a bowl a lot easier, but that’s really about it as far as on-field, in-season stakes go, and there are no major prospects that look like they will pick between the Gators and Aggies specifically, a change from last year’s few who did (and opted for maroon and white).
So this is a game about pride, mostly, and maybe about health, given the reports of a flu bug running through the A&M program. If that makes this a golden opportunity for Florida to win a game it can hang a ten-gallon hat on, so be it — but it’s also fair to say this one is probably going to mean more on message boards than anywhere else.
Winning these sorts of games — and all of them — is better than the alternative. I’m not willing to say that it’s really much better, though, even if I’d sure like for Florida to make that coach on the other sideline a little more uncomfortable.