Vanderbilt vs. Florida: If Gators Don't Win, They Might Not Go Bowling

Matt SmithCorrespondent IIIMarch 4, 2017

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 29:  John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators dives for a loose ball during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on October 29, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

It's been 23 years since Vanderbilt defeated Florida. Outside of a double-overtime thriller in 2005 and a narrow escape by the eventual national champions in 1996, the games haven't even been competitive. It's a new day in the SEC East, and the once mighty Gators now find themselves at 4-4, and in desperate need of a win in order to reach the postseason for the 21st consecutive season.

This isn't your older brother's Vanderbilt. They've smacked Ole Miss, taken Georgia to the wire and lost to No. 10 Arkansas only after a fourth-quarter meltdown. The Commodores are also 4-4, and need two wins to get to only their second bowl game since 1982. They dominated the trenches against the Razorbacks, and now get set to face a Florida defensive front that has failed to live up to expectations this season.

QB John Brantley returned in the loss to Georgia after not playing in four weeks, but his ankle injury is still limiting his mobility. He'll face a Commodores defense that was constantly in Tyler Wilson's face, and defensive linemen Tim Fugger and Rob Lohr both rank in the top six of the SEC in sacks.

Florida hosts Furman on November 19, an almost certain win. Other than the date with the Palladins, the rest of the schedule continues to provide no time to breathe even after an 0-4 October. A trip to South Carolina beckons next week, and the finale brings rival Florida State to The Swamp.

Despite losing both Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks are very quietly 7-1 and ranked ninth in the BCS, thanks to a defense that allowed a mere 34 points during October. Florida only managed to score 47 points last month, so the Gators will likely struggle to score against Ellis Johnson's defense.

Vanderbilt has not beaten Florida since 1988.
Vanderbilt has not beaten Florida since 1988.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Seminoles appear to be this year's Texas A&M, overcoming a midseason swoon and quarterback issues to hit their stride, much as the Aggies did last year when they defeated Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas in November after a 3-3 start. FSU should roll into Gainesville on a six-game winning streak.

The schedule difficulty places added emphasis on the Gators making it 24 straight over Vanderbilt. Despite the challenges of a new coach and a entirely different offensive scheme, missing a bowl game would be disastrous for Will Muschamp. 

In years past, Vanderbilt would be the perfect medicine for the reeling Gators. In 2011, it's just another tough week in an already tough season for a team who less than two years ago was the best program in college football.