The Florida Gators headed into the bye this weekend at a disappointing 3-3, having lost its last two games at home by a combined 3 points.
After the two-point loss to Texas A&M — and with Georgia looming next — talk has shifted from winning the SEC East to becoming bowl eligible. Most articles I have read are focusing on the games against Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State. But with the way the offense has played, there should be real concern for the other teams on the remaining schedule as well.
Famed sabermetrician Bill James invented a statistic called the Pythagorean Expectation. He proposed that a team’s win-loss record does not always tell the entire story. Instead, he insisted that a more accurate way of assessing performance was to look at the difference between points scored and points allowed.
Consider two teams, both with 1-1 records. Team 1 got blown out 33-17 in its first game and won the second, 26-20. Team 2 won its first game, 40-10, and lost its second, 14-13. Which team is better?
They both have the same win-loss record, but James’ metric indicates that the score differential of Team 1 predicts a squad that should only win 40 percent of its games, while Team 2 should win 83 percent of its games. This gets more accurate as teams play more games and strengths of schedule between teams start to even out.
Halfway through the season, it’s fair to start looking at this metric as a way of measuring team performance. Based on that, Florida is exactly where it deserves to be at 3-3, or is maybe even a little bit lucky.
Based on its point differential (all stats against FBS teams), Florida’s expected win percentage is 51 percent. However, remember that Florida has 3 interceptions returned for touchdowns added to its offensive ledger. If we remove those scores (along with all defensive and special teams scores of its opponents), the Gators expected win percentage drops to 43 percent.
This is significant because it reveals some things about the Gators that most fans probably overlook in the win-loss record. First, the loss to Michigan was not a fluke. While the Wolverines have struggled some recently, Michigan is just a better team than Florida.
The Gators are 1-3 in games against teams with better scoring differentials. And the one win against Kentucky was pretty fluky considering Kentucky controlled the game until it decided to try and run out the clock on offense while neglecting to cover Florida’s wide receivers twice. Had kicker Austin MacGinnis had 5 more yards on his last-second kick — or had Kentucky not been called for holding (correctly) — the Gators would be 0-4 in these games.
The more disturbing takeaway using this metric for Florida fans is that the Gators have not shown the ability to put away inferior teams. The closest they came was the second half against Vanderbilt, but that game was 17-17 at the half. And while it was fantastic fun, the Feleipe Franks connection to Tyrie Cleveland against what is a really inferior Tennessee team should be concerning.
This is relevant for the rest of the season because if this trend holds, Florida is going to lose to Georgia and at South Carolina, win at Missouri, then have toss-up games against Alabama at Birmingham and Florida State. In fact, if the defensive and special teams scores are removed for all teams, UAB and FSU actually have slightly better scoring differentials than Florida.
And I’m not sure you can say Missouri is going to be a lock either. Missouri is going to be coming off a game against UConn, not exactly a juggernaut, while Florida is going to be coming off the game against Georgia.
Yes, it is true that Missouri has played really poorly. But the Tigers average 26.7 points per game, more than the Gators’ 23.7. The difference between the two teams is that Missouri’s defense is really terrible, both against the run and pass. But with all of its offensive struggles, I have significant doubts that the Gators will be able to take advantage.
One issue is that the Missouri game is going to be on the road, and freshman quarterbacks perform far worse on the road, including under coach Jim McElwain.
Even Will Grier struggled away from home. You might remember his struggles at Kentucky and at Missouri that bookended the Tennessee miracle and Ole Miss destruction. But Grier isn’t alone.
All of McElwain’s quarterbacks have been significantly worse away from the Swamp compared to at home. They have been less accurate, thrown fewer touchdowns and had worse QB ratings. The only QB who has not done that yet is Franks, but his QB rating is based on a total of 21 throws against Michigan and Kentucky, and he was pulled from both games.
This doesn’t mean Missouri will win. But anyone counting on the Missouri game to be a win is fairly presumptuous, given the inability of Florida to put inferior teams away at home and the track record of Florida’s QBs on the road under McElwain. There’s a distinct possibility that Florida may be 3-5 heading into the game against South Carolina.
Even if we assume a win against Missouri, that still means that Florida will need to go 2-1 over the rest of the season to become bowl eligible. Based on the metric shown above, South Carolina should be heavy favorites and the games against UAB and FSU are toss-ups.
What these statistics really indicate is that when you look at how these teams have all performed thus far in 2017, Florida’s ceiling is probably six wins, 5-6 is the most likely scenario and a 4-7 finish not out of the question.
Florida’s offense is currently averaging 23.7 points against FBS opponents in 2017, right in line with its averages in 2015 (23.2) and 2016 (23.9). But consider that Luke Del Rio has presided over 28 points while starting only three quarters (9.3 points per quarter) while Franks has overseen 93 points while starting 20 quarters (4.7 points per quarter).
It’s quite possible that Florida’s offense is going to get worse than it has been through the first half of the season.
And if it does, a defense that has made gains the past couple of weeks is going to be exposed. There just isn’t enough depth on that side of the ball to hold up if the offense can’t stay on the field.
In Will Muschamp’s third season, Gators fans experienced the indignity of losing a game to FCS opponent Georgia Southern at home. That was the beginning of the end for Muschamp, the moment where he lost the fan base.
Hopefully, that moment doesn’t come for McElwain anytime soon. But based on the performance of Florida versus its opponents thus far, it’s a distinct possibility.