GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The first half of Florida’s season closed on a down note with back-to-back stinging losses at home as the Gators fell to LSU and Texas A&M by a combined 3 points.
There are plenty of what if’s to digest as a result.
What if the Gators had made the game-tying extra point against LSU? What if they had been able to get an extra first down or two before Texas A&M’s go-ahead field goal drive? What if veteran quarterback Luke Del Rio hadn’t sustained a season-ending collarbone injury and instead was the one leading the offense in those two games?
Florida (3-3, 3-2 SEC) was that close to being 5-0 in the conference to set up a marquee SEC East showdown with rival Georgia next weekend in Jacksonville.
Instead, the Gators are clinging to fleeting hopes in the division, needing to upset the undefeated Bulldogs, win out and get help along the way (i.e. Auburn beating Georgia).
Rather than worrying about that, though, the Gators may soon be worrying about getting bowl eligible instead. They need to win three of their final five games to qualify.
Here’s a look at Florida’s win probability in each of those remaining contests:
Oct. 28 vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
Gators’ odds of winning: 15 percent
The No. 3 Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have looked dominant in conference play, rolling over Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Missouri by an average margin of 31.25 points per victory.
In fact, the only close game they’ve played was a 20-19 Week 2 win at Notre Dame.
Georgia ranks third nationally in total defense (252.6 yards per game allowed) and fourth in scoring defense (12.6 points per game).
Florida had enough trouble moving the ball against Texas A&M. It’s not a good matchup for the Gators, considering they are reliant on their ground attack and Georgia is yielding only 82.1 rushing yards per game.
The Gators have one of the worst passing attacks in the SEC, so if they are shut down on the ground it’s hard to imagine redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks winning this game through the air.
On the other side, Georgia averages 37.57 points per game and will test the Gators with its dual-rushing attack of Nick Chubb (688 yards, 6.4 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns) and Sony Michel (492, 7.2 YPC, 6 TDs).
Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Fromm (1,162 passing yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs) is having the kind of freshman season Florida fans were hoping for from Franks.
Georgia is the superior team in about every way, but this is a rivalry game and rivalry games can be wonky.
Jim McElwain is 2-0 against Georgia and neither game was particularly close. The Bulldogs are obviously on a different level this fall, but crazier things have happened.
That said, the Gators will be heavy underdogs.
Nov. 4 at Missouri
Gators’ win probability: 85 percent
Missouri has not beaten an FBS team yet this season, picking up its lone win in Week 1 against Missouri State. Even in that game the Tigers allowed 43 points.
They rank 126th out of 129 FBS teams in giving up 42.2 points per game.
This matchup is a godsend for Florida’s struggling offense. The Gators won 40-14 when the teams met a year ago and need to find a way to build confidence in a similar fashion this time.
Missouri has capable offensive players in quarterback Drew Lock (1,723 passing yards, 17 TDs, 7 INTs) and running back Damarea Crockett (481 yards, 6.0 YPC, 2 TDs).
But this is a game in which the Gators have to take care of business. While this fall hasn’t gone as hoped, Florida is in a much better place than Missouri’s program.
Nov. 11 at South Carolina
Gators’ win probability: 50 percent
This is going to be an interesting one. Former Florida coach Will Muschamp has the Gamecocks moving in the right direction in his second season.
With a late defensive stand last week at Tennessee, South Carolina improved to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the SEC with wins over Missouri, Arkansas and the Vols.
The Gamecocks have what Florida is searching for — an established quarterback.
Sophomore Jake Bentley continues to impress in his second season, passing for 1,585 yards, 12 TDs and 4 INTs so far. The Gamecocks are without their best playmaker, wide receiver Deebo Samuel (broken leg), but they’ve found a way to win games without him.
While he’ll never say it, this is a game Muschamp wants to win badly against his former program. And if he does, the McElwain critics will be deafening in venting their frustration about the direction Florida is heading.
This is an important game for the Gators, as they will likely need it for bowl eligibility and they will definitely need it for the sanity of the fan base.
Nov. 18 vs. UAB
Gators’ win probability: 95 percent
UAB is in its first season since restarting its football program after a brief hiatus, and the Blazers of Conference USA are off to a 4-2 start.
That said, they don’t have a notable win yet and they got blown out earlier in the season by a struggling Ball State team (51-31).
In an ideal circumstance, UAB would still have a significant talent disparity to Florida, but the Blazers’ recruiting efforts had to also overcome the two-year hiatus of the program.
There’s no way Florida should be at risk of losing this game. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen — this Gators’ team has a razor thin margin for error — but it shouldn’t happen.
Nov. 25 vs. Florida State
Gators’ win probability: 40 percent
As usual, the in-state rivals close the regular season against each other, but it has a different feel this time with both programs presently unranked.
Florida State lost starting quarterback and offensive focal point Deondre Francois to a season-ending patellar tendon injury in the season opener.
Freshman James Blackman has struggled as his replacement, passing for 799 yards, 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
For that reason and the fact that Dalvin Cook has moved on to the NFL, the Gators have a chance against the Seminoles. Especially with this game being played in The Swamp.
Florida State is off to a 2-3 start with wins over Duke and Wake Forest and losses to Alabama, N.C. State and Miami.
That said, Florida State has won four straight meetings with Florida and the last two have been decidedly lopsided as the Seminoles won 27-2 on their last visit to Gainesville and 31-13 last year in Tallahassee, Fla.
Nobody on this Florida roster has beaten Florida State. Until that happens, the Gators remain the underdogs.
But to close the regular season with a win over the Seminoles would be big for Florida, and might well be necessary to secure a bowl invite. Rankings aside, this one will be highly anticipated as always.