GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With Florida enjoying a bye this week and no game to preview, analyze or break down, we took the opportunity to look back on the Gators’ first six games.
Now it’s time to gaze forward. No. 15 Florida has five games remaining, including four of the toughest games on its season schedule — all on the road. The Gators (5-1, 3-1 SEC) sit atop the SEC East standings — one game up on top challenger Tennessee — and control their own destiny, but much work remains.
Here’s a ranking of their toughest remaining games from 5-1:
5. South Carolina (Nov. 12)
Florida’s only remaining home game comes in three weeks against a South Carolina team that entered Saturday 2-4 overall and 1-4 in the SEC.
With the Gators buying out their Nov. 19 home game with Presbyterian so they can make up their postponed clash with LSU in Baton Rouge, La., this meeting with the Gamecocks becomes the team’s senior day.
Which is fitting as many of Florida’s veteran players were recruited to Gainesville by former coach Will Muschamp, who is in his first season with the Gamecocks.
South Carolina turned to freshman quarterback Jake Bentley for its game with Massachusetts on Saturday, so it will be interesting to monitor the offense’s progress these next couple weeks. Regardless, this is a game the Gators will be expected to win — and win convincingly.
4. Georgia (Oct. 29)
The Gators and Bulldogs (4-3, 2-3) will be coming off a bye as they tangle in Jacksonville, Fla., next Saturday in their annual rivalry showdown.
Georgia has had a rough run through the SEC so far in coach Kirby Smart’s first season, squeaking past Missouri (28-27), getting blown out by Ole Miss (45-14), losing in heartbreaking fashion to Tennessee (34-31), picking up an expected win over South Carolina (28-14) and then getting upset by Vanderbilt (17-16).
That’s not what fans had in mind when the Bulldogs ran off longtime coach Mark Richt to make a popular hire in Smart.
Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has also been up and down while completing 54.3 percent of his passes overall for 1,366 yards, 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
But rivalry games are unpredictable and this is the start of Florida’s gauntlet-like final stretch.
3. at Florida State (Nov. 26)
Back in the preseason, this shaped up to be perhaps the toughest game on Florida’s schedule. The No. 13Seminoles (5-2) have had their ups and downs this fall, though.
Their 63-20 loss at Louisville was eye-opening, they also fell 37-35 at home to North Carolina two weeks later and didn’t earn any style points in a 17-6 win over Wake Forest last week.
More to the point, whatever happens in this game will not affect the Gators’ SEC East title hopes. Therefore it takes a back seat to the two remaining games on this list.
2. at Arkansas (Nov. 5)
Arkansas has proven to be one of the SEC’s tougher obstacles in November.
Last season, the Razorbacks went 3-1 in the final month with wins over Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri and only a narrow 51-50 loss to Mississippi State. In 2014, they posted a pair of shutouts in their November home games against ranked LSU and Ole Miss teams.
No. 17 Arkansas entered play Saturday 5-2 overall and 1-2 in the challenging SEC West, with a big win over Ole Miss (34-30) and losses to a top-10 Texas A&M team (45-24) and top-ranked Alabama (49-30).
The Razorbacks have the offensive playmakers in quarterback Austin Allen (SEC-leading 1,861 passing yards entering Saturday) and running back Rawleigh Williams III (SEC-leading 785 rushing yards) to challenge Florida’s vaunted defense.
The question will be whether the Gators can do enough on the offensive end while weathering a tough SEC road environment.
This is not just a huge game for Florida, but it’s also one of the marquee games on the remaining schedule for the entire conference.
1. at LSU (Nov. 19)
It has to come down to this game, right?
It just seems predestined. All of the banter and conjecture. The second-guessing and criticism. The “line in the sand.” Frustration that ensued from the indefinite postponement of the team’s originally-scheduled Oct. 8 matchup in Gainesville due to Hurricane Matthew. And the rescheduling for Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge, La..
This game has to be the one that decides Florida’s SEC fate.
Of course, the Gators have to take care of business in the other aforementioned conference games first, but if they do, what a way to settle things.
The No. 25 Tigers (4-2, 2-1) have been impressive since replacing longtime head coach Les Miles with interim coach Ed Orgeron. They piled up 418 rushing yards and 634 total offensive yards in blowing out Missouri, 42-7, and then rolled to a 45-10 win over Southern Miss.
A lot can change for LSU between now and Nov. 19, though. The Tigers were preparing to host Ole Miss on Saturday night before hosting Alabama and visiting Arkansas the next two weeks.
If they manage some upsets along the way, this showdown could really take on high stakes. Either way, the matchup won’t be lacking for storylines.