The talk of the town is that the number two ranked Gators get South Carolina, Florida State and Tennessee to end their season. That's tough. But if you look at it a little closer, their playoff starts on the 29th of September when they host Mississippi State in Gainesville. After that, Florida takes on LSU, Auburn, and Georgia before they even get to Columbia on November 10th.
Last season, Mississippi State thumped Florida in one of their worst defeats in the Spurrier era. The mighty Gators were physically beaten. How much has really changed in Starkville? Despite the game being at home in the Swamp, this game should scare the heck out of Florida because of the way the Bulldogs match up against the Gators. You will still see power versus finesse. If you are a Mississippi State fan, you have to like your offensive match-up against the Gators' run defense. The Gators are loaded with athletes but very thin at the defensive tackle position. The Bulldogs have a deep and big offensive line. They also have two dynamite running backs in Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker that can carry the load. Wayne Madkin is a 5th year senior, and the guy just finds a way to win. Stop the run and you beat Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs. If you don't, Mississippi State controls the clock and crowd. More importantly, you keep Spurrier's potent Fun'n Gun off the field. To me, this is one of the most intriguing games in the SEC this season.
Here is something else to consider. When Florida has had dominant teams over the last ten years or so, their offense has been unstoppable. They score early and often. They score quickly with big plays. I have a feeling that I just described Florida's offense for this season. It all depends on quarterback consistency. Whether it is Rex Grossman or Brock Berlin, this offense should score and score in bunches. That doesn't bode well for teams like Mississippi State because they do not have big comeback capability, but the threat is there.
Next up after the Bulldogs is a road trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU. We all know what a dangerous squad this Tiger team is, especially in Death Valley. Remember what happened a few seasons ago? It doesn't get any easier the next week when Florida travels to Auburn. This is a super team defensively that can control the line of scrimmage. The question with Auburn is their offense. Can they keep up with the Gators?
After a bye week, Florida and Georgia get it on in Jacksonville for another version of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It appears that new Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt has this Georgia team playing hard and playing with a purpose. The Dawgs are pretty thin at certain positions, most notably on the offensive line. But make no mistake about it, UGA still has talent and they run the Florida State offense, which has given the Gators some fits over the years. I know the Dawgs don't have the same talent as FSU, but Richt knows the Gators as well as anyone.
Vanderbilt is next for Florida on November 3rd and then they travel to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks. This is an unbelievably well coached football team. They play field position, play great defense, and they run the football. QB Phil Petty just finds a way to win, and the guy doesn't make many mistakes. That is the simple formula for success for a team like South Carolina. They may not have as much talent as some of the other teams in the conference, but they play sound, fundamental football.
The mighty Seminoles are up next. FSU lost a ton of players off last year's team, and this year, they have been besieged with injuries and tragedy. But this is still Florida State and you can never take them for granted. On top of that, this is arguably the biggest rivalry in college football. More times than not, the winner gets a shot at the national title. This year, you would think, it's the Gator's turn.
Tennessee has not won in Gainesville since 1971 and that year, one of the their offensive linemen was a player named Philip Fulmer. That was thirty years ago, and now Fulmer has turned Tennessee into a national power. Despite their lack of success in Gainesville, the Vols, like Mississippi State, pose match-up problems for Florida. They have a big, strong offensive line, and they like to play power football. On top of that, they have a ferocious defensive line led by John Henderson. Tennessee will play a lot of young guys this season, and by December 1st, they could become seasoned veterans. The Vols also had a ton of early season injuries. Now they can get players healthy, like Henderson and wide receiver Donte Stallworth. Another thing to look at with Tennessee is their schedule. Their first eight games are as difficult as anyone in the country but they close with Memphis, Kentucky and Vandy before they take on the Gators.
Make no mistake about it, Florida deserves to be ranked where they are ranked. This is a talented team on both sides of ball that parallels some of their great teams of the past, especially offensively. But the point I was trying to make is that the Gators can not afford to slip up this season. Remember Terry Dean's six interceptions against Auburn or Florida's poor play in Baton Rouge a few seasons ago? A poor outing could result in a loss and a loss could prevent this team from fulfilling its goals. If Florida runs the table, then they likely get to play Mississippi State or LSU once again in the Georgia Dome for the conference championship. Beating a team twice in one season in no easy task. That is one heck of a tough schedule and a lot of ifs. There is little room for error.
Some say a schedule like this is the reason why we do not need a playoff in college football. Every game has such a great importance to a team's destiny. Maybe those people are right, because if Florida survives this sudden death playoff of a regular season, they will get a chance at the ultimate goal – a national championship.