If the Florida Gators win the SEC championship on Saturday and don't play for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl, they can blame the BCS system, the poll voters, SEC officials, Auburn, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, PETA, the ACLU, global warming ... and the list goes on and on.
Then they can take a closer look at
themselves and figure out why they're not 12-0 with more "style points," a.k.a.
"more impressive one-sided victories over beatable teams."
Except for early games against
Southern Miss and UCF and one late-season game against Division I-AA Western
Carolina, which did next to nothing to help the Gators in the BCS standings or
the polls, the Gators haven't taken anyone to the wood shed for a good ol'
Of course this is 2006, not 1996,
and it's a different era in SEC football. Florida doesn't own the SEC like it did back
then, and there's even more parity in the nation's deepest, toughest and best
football conference. Winning the SEC now is a lot more difficult than it was
just 10 years ago. Going undefeated is nearly impossible. Just try getting the
national poll voters and the BCS computers to understand that.
"I think they're doggone good,"
State coach Bobby Bowden
said. "They looked darn second to that 1996 team they had. That's how they
looked to me. So much skill running around out there you have to be able to
contain them all day long."
So why didn't the Gators manhandle
a 6-6 FSU team last Saturday? The final score of 21-14 can most likely be
explained by the nature of the rivalry, FSU's defense, and playing on the road,
but try explaining that to voters who saw USC beat Notre Dame 44-22 late
Then again, many voters in the USA
Today Coaches and the Harris Interactive polls probably didn't
actually see both the Florida-FSU and USC-Notre Dame games in their entirety.
They probably saw the score, maybe read the stilted AP version of the story and
left with the impression that USC is a much better team than Florida.
Let's face it. It's all about
"Here's our style: You've got
Tennessee, you've got Kentucky, you've got Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Auburn
and at Tallahassee," Florida coach Urban Meyer
said. "So much for style. You want to put that one against anyone in the
country, let's go ahead and go.
"If that's what's making decisions,
then I'm going to stand by my comment from a week ago. Implode it. It's over. If
that's what's making the decisions – style points, which I imagine that's what
it is – we've got a problem. It's called winning and losing and playing a
There ought to be some value in the
fact that Florida beat Florida State
for a third consecutive time and improved to 6-0 against its three primary
rivals – Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State – in two seasons under
The Gators also won consecutive
games in Tallahassee for the first time since 1986 and
won three consecutive games against FSU for the first time since a six-game
streak between 1981 and 1986.
"To the guys in that locker room
and the guys that matter, it's 11-1 and six straight against our rivals," Meyer
said. "I think people understand that was a tough game."
Too bad that might not be enough to
give the Gators a chance at the national championship. If USC beats UCLA on
Saturday, Florida might need to crush
Arkansas in the SEC championship game in
Atlanta just to have a chance to face Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Good luck
dominating Arkansas for a one-sided win. That hasn't
happened since Sept. 2 ... when USC did it ... to the tune of 50-14.
Of course, that's practically
ancient history in college football, and Florida will face a dramatically different Arkansas team than the
one USC beat way back when, but the Gators still need to be at their absolute
best when they play the Razorbacks.
And that – the Gators playing at
their absolute best – has yet to happen this season.
"It's frustrating that we haven't
been able to put a complete game together," Florida cornerback Ryan Smith said.
It's not just week to week, either.
Sometimes it's quarter to quarter. For example, look at the third quarter in the
Florida led 14-0 at halftime and intercepted
two passes in the third quarter, but FSU still rallied to tie the score early in
the fourth quarter. Having lost versatile receiver Percy Harvin late in the
second quarter and tailback Dexter Wynn early in the third quarter, the Gators
suddenly looked lost and the offense managed only 32 yards in the third
"We had a bad third quarter," Meyer
said. "There was no life on sidelines, no juice. When the coaches have to get
the team up, you have a problem. We were in a funk. I can't explain
If he can't explain it, who can?
Who can explain how the Gators seem to drift in and out of consciousness from
quarter to quarter, unleashing a multitude of offensive weapons one minute and
then going into an offensive coma the next?
"Playing teams like we've been
playing," said reserve quarterback Tim Tebow, "it's hard to run up the
Don't expect that to change against
proved the Razorbacks can be beaten, but the Tigers didn't exactly blow the Hogs
out of the game. The Gators won't either. And unless USC loses, that means the
Gators won't play for the national championship.
Of course, Arkansas will have
something to say about the outcome of the SEC championship game.
First, the Razorbacks must find a
way to bounce back from their first loss in 10 games.
"It feels very weird to lose. It's
a bad feeling," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said, reflecting
back on a 31-26 loss to LSU last Friday. "I would much rather have it the other
way. It's much more fun that way. Our team played with class and we deserve to
go to Atlanta.
Give us a couple of days and we will be ready."
The Razorbacks need to spend some
of that time – OK, a LOT of that time - working on their passing game. After
making progress in the passing game late in the season after switching from true
freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain to sophomore Casey Dick, the entire situation
took a turn for the worse in the LSU game when Dick completed only 3 of 17
passes for 29 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tailback Darren McFadden actually passed for more yardage by completing both of his passes for
Dick's performance hit rock bottom
pulled within five, 31-26 and got more chances with 2:04 to play. Instead of
driving for the winning touchdown, Dick threw four consecutive incomplete
passes. LSU's pass rush obviously had something to do with Dick's inefficiency,
but at times he just was plain off the mark.
"It's tough for all of us. I
obviously didn't play to the best of my abilities, and I take full
responsibility for that," Dick said. "Now we just have to regroup just like we
did after USC. We missed some key opportunities, but now we have to go to
Atlanta and take
care of business."
Within the next few days, the SEC's
bowl discussions will go into high gear with the SEC attempting to fit nine
teams into eight spots.
Miami didn't do the SEC any favors last week by beating
College 17-14 and becoming
bowl-eligible. The SEC had hoped to fill one of the ACC's spots, but that's not
likely to happen now. Instead, the SEC will most likely attempt to convince the
Motor City Bowl to take an SEC team.
Boise State isn't doing the SEC any favors by
being undefeated and crashing the BCS party, either. That's one less spot for
the college football power conferences to share.
Carolina's 31-28 win over Clemson on Saturday puts the Gamecocks one
notch above Alabama in the bowl picture and might leave
the 6-6 Crimson Tide on the outside looking in.
Just how bad does that 24-16 home
loss to Mississippi State look now? As if going 2-6 in the SEC
isn't bad enough, now it appears Alabama administrators are shopping for a new
coach while leaving current coach Mike Shula dangling in the wind.
As of Sunday, university president
Dr. Robert Whitt and athletic director Mal Moore had yet to affirm Shula as
coach in 2007. And the rumor mills
are flying fast and furious, with everyone from Nick Saban to Steve Spurrier
lining up to take the job. No word yet on Bill Parcells leaving the Dallas Cowboys for Alabama, but give it time.
In the meantime, here's a sampling
of some SEC bowl possibilities:
Florida: Sugar Bowl with a win over Arkansas in the SEC
championship game. Another spot in a BCS bowl with a loss to the
Arkansas: Sugar Bowl with a win over Florida in the SEC
championship game. A spot in another BCS bowl is no guarantee if the Razorbacks
lose on Saturday. With a loss, the CapitalOne Bowl is a more likely
Georgia: Chick-fil-A or Music City.
Tennessee: Outback or Music City.
Carolina: Music City,
possibly the Motor City Bowl.
Alabama: Independence or possibly the Motor City
LSU: The Tigers
still have a realistic shot at a BCS bowl berth. How does a Rose Bowl trip
against Michigan sound? If not the Rose, possibly the
Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based
sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at