They own a losing record, have one of the more dysfunctional offenses in major-college football and their coach was effectively fired last weekend. But there’s one true indication of how bad things are for the Florida Gators, and it’s found on electronic boards above sports betting windows in Las Vegas:
Indeed, the not-so-mighty Gators are in such disarray that our friends in the desert have installed them as an underdog against the worst team in the SEC. Hey, we know it’s bad in Gainesville right now. Coach Jim McElwain was ousted on the heels of two Eastern Division championships reportedly for clashing with the administration. The offense continues to be a mess. Interim coach Randy Shannon takes over a proud program facing a severe crisis of confidence.
But lose-to-Missouri bad? Have the bookmakers become enamored with how Tigers quarterback Drew Lock can roll up huge numbers against the likes of Idaho and Connecticut? Did they miss that Mizzou remains winless in the conference, and has been blown out in three of its four SEC games? Are we expecting the atmosphere at Faurot Field in November to be so intimidating, the Gators won’t stand a chance?
No. Listen, the crew here at Upset Alert has had some rocky moments this season. We’ve had to reassign a few guys on the research staff, and replace our Director of Advanced Statistics. But when poring over Vegas lines, you look for the mistake, and this number appears every bit a knee-jerk reaction. It’s bad at Florida, no question. But it’s not lose-to-Missouri bad. Not yet.
1. Missouri is a mess in its own right
No, the Tigers haven’t had nine players suspended for a scam that grew into a fraud investigation, didn’t lose their best quarterback to an injury and didn’t see their coach fired at midseason. But Missouri hardly has been a model of program, with a defensive coordinator fired two weeks into the season and a handful of player issues, including the dismissal of receiver Demetrios Mason. Recruiting is a struggle. Athletic director Jim Sterk is saying all the right things about coach Barry Odom, but he didn’t hire the guy. This is a program that’s barely competitive against Power 5 opponents — hardly the case with Florida, which has won three SEC games and was a missed extra point from forcing No. 19 LSU into overtime.
2. Duke Dawson vs. Drew Lock
Last year’s game in Gainesville, a 40-14 Florida rout, turned when defensive backs Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson picked off passes and returned them for touchdowns on consecutive possessions. They’re both in the NFL now, but the Gators still have one of the SEC’s elite defensive backs in corner Duke Dawson, who ranks second in the league in both passes defended and intercepted. Florida is third in the SEC in interceptions, and though that secondary isn’t as stout against the pass as it should be, it retains a knack for the ball. And Dawson is the kind of corner who can shut down Missouri leading receiver J’Mon Moore and force Lock to make mistakes by looking elsewhere.
3. The Randy Shannon effect
Shannon has been there and done that. He played at Miami during the glory years of the U, coached there as the same program struggled to meet expectations. During his time in Coral Gables, he had a knack for building rapports with players, and perhaps knows as well as anyone what the Gators are going through now. “You can’t just send a young man off to see a psychiatrist,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 2009. “… I have to be the psychiatrist.” The changes he’s instituted, like opening up the quarterback competition, have made the biggest news so far. But don’t dismiss the reality of a coach who fully understands his players’ current situation, and how to perhaps get the most out of them as a result.
4. Everyone’s waiting on Florida to quit
In Missouri, they’re calling for a blackout this weekend. Sterk told the CoMo paper that the Tigers are “looking to flip the season (and) go 5-1” in the second half. Amazing what routs of Idaho and UConn will do for your confidence. Meanwhile there’s Florida, which everyone expects to quit like its in-state rivals did last week against Boston College. Really, it’s the perfect opportunity for Shannon and the Gators, who face zero pressure, and will have a chance to build some momentum against an opponent that’s not very good. The wreckage in Gainesville momentarily has eclipsed what’s happening in Missouri, but there remains a stark difference between a down season and a downward trend for a program.
Prediction: Florida 27, Missouri 24
No question, Lock is lighting it up right now. But let’s not forget that South Carolina limited this offense to 13 points, Auburn to 14, and Purdue to a field goal — and all of those games were at Faurot Field. Against SEC opponents, Missouri is averaging 22.2 points per game. Florida has had its struggles, but if the Gators still can’t muster enough to beat the worst team in the conference — well, then things in Gainesville must be even worse than they seem.