College Football’s Southeastern Conference is starting to closely resemble the WWE’s Royal Rumble: every time you look up, a new competitor gets eliminated, and another contender enters the match, with the hopes of being the last competitor standing.
This past Saturday alone saw LSU, Auburn, and Kentucky — three of the SEC’s six ranked teams — all lose. True to Royal Rumble form, all three were taken down by fellow SEC rivals. Kentucky’s undefeated streak was snapped by Texas A&M. Auburn suffered their second loss of the season at the hands of Mississippi State.
But it’s the loss by LSU — one of three teams in the SEC ranked among the top five teams in the nation — to the University of Florida, which might actually be the most noteworthy news of the weekend.
Florida routed Charleston Southern in the season opener, but followed that up with a seemingly inexcusable loss to the University of Kentucky; it was the first time in 13 years that the Gators had lost their SEC opener. Even after bringing head coach Dan Mullen back home to Gainesville, the same problems the Gators faced previously hadn’t really went away. The defense was talented but inconsistent. For a school with a glorious history at running back, they couldn’t run the football. The indecision at quarterback continued to loom, with Feleipe Franks remaining the answer that nobody felt great about.
It’s no wonder that Mullen called the loss an early “wake up call,” likely addressing the fans who were expecting an immediate turnaround.
But since then, Florida has reeled off four straight wins. Florida put up 48 points on Colorado State and 47 points on Tennessee, knocking off both by a multiple-touchdown margin. They survived a slobber-knocker against Mississippi State in Starkville, with the Gators defense holding the Bulldogs to only 202 yards of total offense. On Saturday, the Gators pulled out a throwback win against the 5th-ranked LSU Tigers, putting up 215 yards rushing, making key defensive plays when it counted, and even using tight end Lucas Krull to pull off a Tim Tebow-esque left-handed jump pass off a fake punt, to set up Florida’s go-ahead score to pull off the upset.
As of this morning, the Gators still sit in third place in the SEC East. But as their outlook drastically changed from right about one month ago, the road ahead for Florida is a very favorable one, as far as potentially winning the SEC East.
Obviously, such aspirations are only realistic if the Gators are able to knock off the University of Georgia. But the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” – the annual matchup between Florida and Georgia – takes place three weekends from now. Meaning, if the Gators remain unscathed in what should be a tune-up game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, they’ll have two full weeks – given their bye on October 20th – to prepared for the mighty Bulldogs.
Though he and his Bulldogs got their brains beat in last year by the Bulldogs from Athens, Mullen is no stranger to the gauntlet that is the SEC. Remember that this is the same coach who took Mississippi State to a #1 ranking in the nation at one point, not too long ago (in 2015).
All it would take it is a win over Georgia, and one more loss by Kentucky – who, ironically, takes on Georgie the weekend after the Florida-Georgia game – to sit in the driver’s seat of the SEC East.
Or, using our metaphor from earlier: taking out Georgia would be like throwing out the biggest, baddest man currently in the ring, and exponentially raising their chances of remaining until the very end… until they would have to face Alabama in the SEC Championship game, at least.