Florida Football: Ranking the Gators' Most Important Remaining SEC Games
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During the past three weeks, the Gators scratched out a road win against Texas A&M, convincingly beat Tennessee and blew out Kentucky. Unfortunately for Will Muschamp's team, the month of October won't be nearly as friendly.
Beating Kentucky is like beating your younger brother in one-on-one basketball. Facing LSU is like getting punched straight in the gut.
That's what Florida faces next Saturday as the Gators head into their toughest stretch of the season.
Starting next week, Florida will face LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri. Although Vanderbilt and Missouri don't pose a major threat to UF's chances at the postseason, the Gators should be underdogs in the other three matchups.
If Florida is destined to prove it's the real deal, October will be the most important month on the schedule.
Let's take a look at how the Gators' remaining SEC games stack up.
5. Vanderbilt (October 13)
Vanderbilt should be a tune-up game for the Gators.
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If not for a dominant performance by Jeff Demps, the Vanderbilt Commodores would have spoiled the Gators' homecoming celebration.
The current New England Patriots running back went off for 158 rushing yards and two scores in Florida's narrow 26-21 win last season.
This year, the Commodores sit at 1-3, although they did provide a scare in Week 1, nearly beating South Carolina. However, the team surrendered 48 points on 567 yards of offense against Georgia last weekend.
It will be interesting to see how James Franklin's team plays against Missouri—an opponent the Gators will face in November—but I don't expect the Commodores to be much of a test for UF.
4. Missouri (November 3)
Missouri got destroyed by both South Carolina and Georgia.
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After getting demolished by South Carolina and Georgia by a combined score of 72-31, it's clear Missouri isn't exactly on par with the big dogs of the SEC.
Although the Tigers do have some solid playmakers on offense—notably running back Kendial Lawrence—they rank just 70th in points allowed (25.5).
Florida definitely has an advantage in the trenches and should be able to impose its will on both lines of scrimmage.
The only caveat to this matchup is that it is the last conference game on Florida's schedule. If the Gators fall to South Carolina and/or Georgia, it could still hold some importance for conference rankings.
Otherwise, if the Gators come out ahead against their tougher conference foes, consider this game just icing on the cake.
3. South Carolina (October 20)
Connor Shaw is playing at a high level this season.
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On October 20, it'll be Steve Spurrier vs. Will Muschamp, Part II.
With the Gators likely coming off a victory against Vanderbilt, the showdown will be an all-important one for the Florida coaching icons.
Spurrier's South Carolina squad is ranked No. 6 in the nation and sits third in the SEC East, behind Florida and Georgia. The Gamecocks have allowed a division-low 39 points through four games.
When the Gators host the Gamecocks, they will have to do two things: stop Marcus Lattimore and contain Jadeveon Clowney.
Both players are future NFL stars who beat up on Florida as freshmen.
In 2010, Lattimore took the wind out of Florida's sails, carrying the ball 40 times for 212 yards and three scores in the Gamecocks' 36-14 road victory.
Last season, Clowney's only tackle against the Gators resulted in a forced fumble. The Gamecocks then drove 46 yards for a touchdown in their 17-12 victory.
If Florida hopes to avoid a repeat of the past two years, it'll have to stop the Gamecocks' stars.
2. Georgia (October 27)
The Gators had their chances against the Bulldogs, but came up short last season.
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As a current Florida Gators student, I'll tell it to you straight: There's nothing like Florida-Georgia.
There's no love lost between these two bitter rivals. From Brandon Spikes stuffing Knowshon Moreno in '08 to eye-gouging Washaun Ealey in '09, the Gators haven't been afraid to flex their muscles against the Bulldogs.
Unfortunately for Florida fans, Mark Richt's squad left Jacksonville with the win last season.
The Bulldogs feature a bevy of NFL-bound playmakers on defense, including future first-round linebacker Jarvis Jones, defensive tackle Jon Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree and All-American safety Bacarri Rambo.
Offensively, Georgia has an excellent quarterback in Aaron Murray and a fantastic freshman running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Besides being a rivalry game, the Florida-Georgia showdown should have serious implications in the division standings.
1. LSU (October 6)
We'll find out next Saturday just how much the Gators have changed since 2011.
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In terms of the Gators' remaining SEC schedule, there's LSU and then everyone else.
The Tigers, along with Alabama, are the class of the SEC. They simply dominate at the line of scrimmage, play physical defense and run the ball down your throat.
Sounds like Will Muschamp's dream team, right?
Les Miles' team once again boasts a tremendous group of future NFL stars, most notably the dynamic defensive end duo of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
Those two studs will be a tough matchup for whatever tackles start for the Gators.
LSU also features a four-headed rushing attack that's led by sophomore Kenny Hilliard's six touchdowns and eye-popping 7.3 yards-per-carry average.
If the Gators want to prove they're for real, there's no better way than to take it to LSU in the Swamp.
In nine days, we'll find out just who the Gators really are.