Florida Gators' Bowl Outlook Is Still Wide Open

Jay HendryCorrespondent INovember 10, 2010

Can Redemption Rainey carry the Gators all the way to New Orleans?
Can Redemption Rainey carry the Gators all the way to New Orleans?Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

It's over now.  You can raise Florida's worst possible solution from "EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE" to "pleasantly mediocre."  The worst the Gators can do is 6-6, with a bad bowl bid.  The win at Vanderbilt last Saturday guarantees that the Gators will go bowling this season.  No amount of bad play will take that away.

The weird part for the SEC and the Gators is that with three games to go, and only one SEC game remaining, the Gators could end up anywhere from the Sugar Bowl to the Liberty Bowl.

Yes, with only one league game remaining, Florida can finish anywhere from first in the conference to seventh.  The even weirder thing is this requires no outside help.  Florida completely controls their own destiny.

How likely is all of this, though?  Florida is such a big draw that they will likely not fall all the way to the bottom of the SEC's bowl selections, regardless of record.  The only thing that is set in stone is that they aren't getting an AQ BCS bid, so the only way into the Sugar Bowl is through the SEC Championship.

Because of the open nature of Florida's bowl situation, I'll break down the possible scenarios, including what has to happen, what can happen, and what can't happen.  Let's start with the best possible bowl choice, the Sugar Bowl.

Sugar Bowl

What has to happen: Florida beats South Carolina and the SEC West Champion.

What can happen: any other loss (App. State or FSU).

What can't happen: any SEC loss.

Florida's SEC championship-game berth is less convoluted than any SEC West team, except for Auburn.  This is funny because Florida lost three SEC games to SEC West schools that aren't named Auburn, and all three have better SEC records than Florida right now.

Sometimes, it's not who you play, it's where you play.  For Florida, the where happened to be in the same division as the two worst teams in the SEC, two very middle-of-the-road teams in Kentucky and Georgia, and South Carolina, who refuses to accept SEC divisional titles even when they're gift-wrapped.

South Carolina is the only opponent standing in Florida's way of the SEC championship game.  USC has never made an SEC Championship game.  USC does not win in November.  USC is playing Florida in Gainesville, in November. 

Florida probably thought they made it easy for someone else to represent the East by going 1-3 in October, but South Carolina doesn't care.  They made this game matter, and that's about the best thing that could happen for the Gators.

Auburn still has four weeks before a potential SEC title game match against either Florida or South Carolina.  That will feel like an eternity, as the NCAA investigations gain momentum. 

If you had asked me if Florida could go to the Sugar Bowl last week, I'd say "only if Auburn collapses and is left out."  Now, I think Florida has a chance even if Auburn's there, as long as Cam isn't.  I still don't think the Gators can beat a full-strength Auburn team, though.

The best thing about this scenario, other than that it gets Florida to both an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl, is it allows for out-of-conference losses.  I don't expect Appalachian State to come into Gainesville and beat the Gators.  However, nobody expected them to beat Michigan, or JMU to beat Virginia Tech.  Both the '07 Michigan team and the '10 Virginia Tech team are more complete than Florida, and App. State is as good as they were in 2007, so it's still possible.

The loss at FSU is far more plausible and would give Florida its fourth in-season loss.  This will matter more in later scenarios, where the bowls take more than conference wins and losses into account.  FSU, despite their end-of-the-game kicking woes, is good enough to beat Florida on any given week.  It wouldn't take a stroke of luck, or some act of Chaos the Football God.  FSU can win the game unsurprisingly, like any good team could.

Nevertheless, FSU doesn't matter as long as Florida beats South Carolina.

Capital One Bowl

What has to happen: Florida needs to beat at least South Carolina and App. State.

What can happen: a loss in the SEC championship game.

What can't happen: more than one loss for the remainder of the season, a blowout loss, 'Bama win over Auburn.

Florida does not control their own destiny completely for this game only because it would likely remove two-loss LSU from Sugar Bowl contention.  If the two BCS bowls go to two SEC West schools, the first bowl pickings will be the third-best team in the SEC West or the best team in the SEC East. 

I don't think the Capital One Bowl wants South Carolina at all.  If they are ahead of Florida in the rankings or standings, Alabama will be playing in Orlando.  However, if Florida's only loss is to undefeated Auburn (with or without Cam Newton), the Capital One Bowl may forgive Florida's blowout loss to Alabama earlier in the season and pick the Gators over Bama in a nod-and-wink move to the Cotton Bowl.

What better way to usher in the Cowboy Stadium era of the Cotton Bowl than to allow 90,000 Alabama fans to come pack in against the Big 12 Championship-game loser?  Of course, Jerry Jones could pressure the Cotton Bowl committee to select Arkansas, his alma mater, which would most likely ruin this hypothetical.

'Bama's not going to slide to the Outback Bowl, which will be Florida's next landing spot, barring the first two scenarios playing out.

Outback Bowl

What has to happen: win against App. State.

What can happen: loss to either USC or losses to FSU and SEC West Champ.

What can't happen: a 6-6 record, five total losses without an SEC title berth.

If you could infer from the previous scenario, or you just know your SEC bowl bidding order, I've skipped the Cotton Bowl.  I don't think they'll pick Florida in any scenario, although Arkansas losing out and Alabama losing out would help.

1984 was the last time an SEC East member got a Cotton Bowl bid (which was before the SEC East existed).  In fact, the Cotton Bowl hasn't reached as far east as Gainesville since the 1990 season, when they selected the University of Miami.

Florida's most likely third option is the Outback Bowl, against the third- or fourth-best Big Ten school, and the first bowl where the matchups start becoming a little "meh." Neither team will likely be ranked in the Top 20, if at all. 

The only consolation is that both teams will be big names.  Florida would face one of the five following teams: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State or Penn State, depending on how the Big Ten race sorts itself out. 

The downside, beyond settling for a second–tier bowl, is intensity.  Only Penn State is already in position for this game.  The rest of the teams would be disappointed to be in Tampa instead of in one of the higher bowls.  Penn State may or may not be disappointed as well; I'm not sure how high/unrealistic their expectations are.

Still, this game has had mostly good matchups, so it might be worth the watch/attendance.

Chick–Fil–A Bowl

What has to happen: Florida wins at least one more game.

What can happen: a bunch of SEC West chaos, but not so much that the SEC ends up with only South Carolina in a BCS bowl.

What can't happen: a 6-6 record by Florida, too much chaos.

Florida's first non-January bowl choice is still a decent, albeit clearly second-tier bowl.  Gator fans don't have fond memories of this bowl game, as Florida is 0-2 all-time here.  Both losses have been bad, with Florida losing by three scores in each contest.

The opposing tie-in is the ACC, which sets the stage for OMG FSU-UF No. 2!, except neither fanbase would really want it, and the revengeance factor would be low for whichever team loses the Thanksgiving game.

A matchup against Miami could work on a historical level, and it might set the record for all-time worst collective passing performance, as Jacory Harris throws 11 picks and John Brantley checks down furiously while getting sacked. 

Outside of an all-Florida matchup or some other kind of unintentional hilarity, this will be a snore-fest for Gator fans, barely registering on the care-o-meter. 

Gator Bowl

What has to happen: Florida is still available, and the Gator Bowl wants its namesake.

What can happen: anything, really.

What can't happen: the Gator bowl picks Georgia instead, for some reason?

This is about as low as Florida can slip unless the Gator Bowl is run by subscribers to High Times or Shroomin' Quarterly or something.  What I'm not-so-subtly implying is that the Gators shouldn't slip below this point.

The Gator Bowl is back on board with the SEC, so it's doubtful that the team with the most SEC appearances would slip below them.  I suppose they did let the SEC go at some point in favor of the ACC, who doesn't travel nearly as well, so there's evidence that the Gator Bowl is not the smartest operation.  However, I doubt they'd pass up Florida for a team with a worse record, an equally apathetic fanbase, farther to travel and who lost to the Gators. 

This is Florida's 6-6 bowl.  It's also a January Bowl (albeit a very very poor one), thankfully all but removing the Compass Bowl, the Music City Bowl and the Liberty Bowl from contention.  Nobody wants to go up to those games to play other 6-6 schools.  If you're going to play mediocre teams, you might as well do it in your own backyard. 

Liberty Bowl

What has to happen: Florida loses every game in a spectacular fashion, Brantley pulls a John Rocker and insults a minority group, Urban Meyer dies of sadness.

What can happen: use your imagination and set it to BURN.

What can't happen: anything logical or decent.

This scenario puts either UGA or Kentucky ahead of the Gators for bowl rights.  That shouldn't happen, as neither is a bigger national draw, tons of other bowls have a local incentive to feature Florida and Florida beat both those teams.  I suppose if Les Miles can make footballs bounce straight up, then anything is possible, though. 

There's a chance that I wouldn't even watch this game.  Well, I say that, and it's probably not true because I'll watch FAU play Central Michigan if it's on, but this game would be stupidly bad. 

Florida probably would lose by 20 because who cares?  Recruits aren't going to care.  Meyer won't care.  Fans won't care.  There will be nothing to play for other than the avoidance of a 6-7 record, which isn't that big of a deal when you're already in that situation.

I'm not going to entertain the idea that Florida gets passed up by every bowl and gets the absolute-lowest SEC bowl bid.  That's not going to happen.  This is the worst the Gators can do for 2010.  Still, it's pretty damn bad.


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