GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Let’s start this on a positive note.
If Florida can bounce back in The Swamp with a win over Texas A&M on Saturday and look good doing it, we’re talking about a 4-1 start in SEC play and a Gators team that could be an upset of Georgia away from seizing control of the division.
If redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks can deliver his best performance yet against a leaky Aggies secondary giving up 263.5 passing yards per game, he can silence many of the questions and doubts. The fan base wants to see him succeed. Some have been discouraged by the lack of progress week to week, but it only takes one game to change a lot of opinions.
Suddenly, the narrative would be that of a resilient Florida team that was a mere botched extra point away from potentially being 5-0 in the SEC. The talk would shift to the Gators’ recent success over Georgia and how the surging Bulldogs need to prove they can get past Florida.
“We control our own destiny,” safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. said this week. “We’re not worried about any other team. We just have to go out there and compete. It’s football. Anything can happen. Our motto is just focus on us, go out there and have fun and just play football and just do what we got to do to get a ‘W.’”
That’s one potential scenario. Then there is the other.
It’s maybe unfair to say, but it feels like the Gators’ season could just as easily be teetering on the edge. It feels like another loss would deal this team significant ramifications beyond the standings.
That’s the obvious piece. Florida has to win Saturday against Texas A&M to maintain a realistic chance in the SEC East. Georgia is a steamroller right now, unbeaten and having won its first three conference games by a combined margin of 117-17. That’s not a typo.
The Gators get their shot at the Bulldogs in two weeks and Georgia later travels to Auburn. It is at least conceivable that a Florida team off back-to-back losses could regroup over the bye week, roll into Jacksonville and upset its rival with its best game of the season, Georgia could lose to Auburn and the Gators could close SEC play with wins over Missouri and South Carolina to trigger a tiebreaker over the Bulldogs and a return to the conference championship game.
Possible, yes. Likely or an ideal path, no.
But more than that, consider the intangible impact if Florida drops a second straight game in The Swamp and falls to 3-3 overall and 3-2 in the league.
There is already so much negativity within the fan base, so much heat on coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and so many questions about Franks.
A flat showing against the Aggies leads to two weeks of doomsday banter from fans heading into that Georgia game. Give these Gators credit, they do have that resiliency that they’ve showed time and again this fall, but that would be a lot to overcome.
It would be hard to forecast a Gators victory over Georgia in that scenario, so then Florida is sitting at 3-4 overall and 3-3 in the league and suddenly they’re chasing bowl eligibility.
That’s getting a little ahead of things, but it does seem Florida’s season diverts on one of two different paths based on the outcome Saturday.
And again, one of those paths is positive. The Gators can dictate the direction of their season moving forward, as opposed to having it dictated for them.
“Like coach says and preaches, all of our goals are still attainable,” defensive end Jordan Sherit said. “… It’s a must win game for both sides. It’s going to be a typical SEC matchup. It’s going to be two sides and who wants it more. I think that’s the answer and what we’re going to find out at the end of the game.”
Said McElwain: “Everything is still out in front of us. How we approach that and how our guys choose to attack that is really going to be interesting. Like I said, I don’t care who is missing, there isn’t any of that. It’s the guys that we have, go out and execute, play your tails off, and that’s what has to happen.”