GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No. 6 Florida will travel to Jacksonville this weekend for a massive SEC East showdown with No. 7 Georgia, a game that will likely decide the division’s representative in the SEC Championship Game later this fall.
Both Florida and Georgia are coming off a bye week, and both teams expect to be pretty close to full strength after getting some time to heal.
The game could also have some implications past just the SEC East standings, too. Kirby Smart is in his fourth season at Georgia and hasn’t quite broken through after being on the doorstep of a national title in his second season. There’s a somewhat unsettled feeling in the fanbase after the Bulldogs tripped up to South Carolina and then sluggishly plodded their way through a win over Kentucky a week later.
A Florida win in Year 2 of the Dan Mullen ear could very much start to shift the narrative in the rivalry and make recruiting quite a bit easier against Smart’s juggernaut.
In any case, here’s how the matchups break down in Saturday’s key contest.Georgia doesn’t necessarily have the kind of star impact player on the defensive front that Auburn (Derrick Brown) or South Carolina (Javon Kinlaw) did, but the Bulldogs are impressive in how deep they’re able to roll up front on the line. The depth is quality, often keeping Georgia fresh late in games.
Florida hasn’t been great running the ball this season, but the Gators have begun to open up some bigger running lanes in recent weeks.
If the Gators can continue executing well, it’s reasonable to expect that Florida will have at least some success in the running game. Frankly, that might be all the Gators need. They just have to have some small semblance of balance so that the Bulldogs can’t simply pin their ears back and get after Kyle Trask all day.
The matchup certainly favors Georgia, but it’s probably not as lopsided as most of these “When Florida Runs” matchups have been this season.
op-ranked LSU is off. So is No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Penn State, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 13 Minnesota, while No. 4 Clemson is an off-the-board favorite over Wofford of the Southern Conference.
The playoff picture can’t change much.
Next week is different, when LSU or Alabama will play the most watched game of the season, and the loser likely will be eliminated from reaching the SEC title game, but potentially still be in contention for a playoff spot, a la the 2017 Crimson Tide. The possibility of the SEC swiping a second bid hangs over the head of every undefeated team still standing, knowing a conference championship might not be enough if the Tigers and Tide reenact their 2011 field goal kicking contest, which triggered the playoff’s creation.
What’s forgotten is that the SEC’s second potential playoff team might not even be playing in that game.
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will almost certainly crown the SEC East champion, likely putting No. 6 Florida or No. 7 Georgia in line for a win-and-in scenario against the LSU/Alabama winner in the conference title game.
The Bulldogs were long expected to be there. Then, Jake Fromm was intercepted three times against South Carolina, and followed with a scoreless first half against Kentucky. Now, the struggling quarterback faces Florida, whose defense has the most sacks in the SEC and has forced the third-most turnovers in the nation.
The Gators already have knocked off No. 11 Auburn, and tested LSU on the road without wide receiver Kadarius Toney and impact defenders Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard, all of whom will return against Georgia.
Timing is everything in this coin-flip game, and Florida (+6½) is perfectly positioned to reclaim the SEC East.
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (+21) over Michigan Wolverines: Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria. The Wolverines ended an eight-game losing streak versus top-10 teams with a blowout win over Notre Dame last week. So, naturally, Jim Harbaugh’s usual domination of the Terps — all four wins by an average of 32.5 points — will stop with a letdown.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (+7½) over WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS: Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson is 0-7 following a week off, which includes this season’s lone loss, to Louisville.
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRIS (-17½) over Virginia Tech Hokies: Brian Kelly isn’t going anywhere. The Fighting Irish are stuck with a coach who led them to a national championship game and playoff appearance, while recording two undefeated regular seasons. If that’s failure, I’ll happily let Kelly handle my best bets.
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (-3) over Miami Hurricanes: What’s more shocking: That the ACC could be so bad or that both former powers could become so irrelevant? At least the Seminoles have won their past three games, against unranked teams.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+21) over ILLINOIS ILLINI: The Scarlet Knights are due for many things. Covering as an underdog (0-6) and breaking a three-game scoreless stretch on the road are at least attainable.
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (+3½) over Utah Utes: The Utes are beginning to get some playoff buzz because of their third-ranked defense, but they haven’t proved much yet, failing their biggest road test — at USC — and holding no wins against currently ranked teams.
AUBURN TIGERS (-19) over Mississippi Rebels: The Tigers just stood toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in one of the nation’s most hostile environments, and have posted a 7-1 record against the spread this season. Now, they get their first home game in more than a month.
EAST CAROLINA PIRATES (+23½) over Cincinnati Bearcats: I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the Pirates play this season. The avalanche of bets on the Bearcats makes me think I’m not alone.
MEMPHIS TIGERS (-5½) over Smu Mustangs: SMU (8-0) has been a wonderful story — in the midst of their best season since infamously receiving the “death penalty” three decades ago — but pressure has finally arrived in their toughest game of the season, with ESPN’s “College GameDay” shining the spotlight on the marquee Group of Five game.
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (-2½) over Virginia Cavaliers: Mack Brown has no shortage of rabbits in his headset. Expect the Tar Heels to pull out another last-minute win over the Cavaliers, who have lost three straight road games.
USC TROJANS (+5) over Oregon Ducks: The Trojans are 4-0 at home this season — including an upset of Utah — and quietly possess a strong path to the Pac-12 championship. While the Ducks are lurking as a potential playoff team, recent sweats against Washington and Washington State hint of a slipup to come.
Boise State Broncos (-17) over SAN JOSE STATE AZTECS: The Broncos were 6-0. Then, quarterback Hank Bachmeier got hurt, and they suffered their first loss. If he’s back, Boise State will be fine. If he’s not, the Broncos will have had two weeks to prepare for the 111th-ranked defense in the nation.