In the week leading up to Florida’s trip to Arkansas, second-year Gators coach Jim McElwain said he has talked to his team about what could be in store for the future.
The future got a little hazier after a 31-10 road loss to the Razorbacks on Saturday in what was supposed to be a statement game.
UF’s offense flatlined and the defense couldn’t bear the weight of carrying its teammates and stopping Arkansas’ offensive barrage. And now, the slim hopes Florida had of reaching the College Football Playoff are gone, and its road to a second consecutive Southeastern Conference East title has could have an added detour.
“The East is a long way away,” McElwain told reporters after the loss. “We’ve got to take care of these kind of things.”
On offense, the things McElwain is referring to is any sort of production. UF went 1 for 11 on third down and did not have a drive longer than five plays or 36 yards until late in the fourth quarter. On defense, it’s getting off the field and staying fresh. Arkansas ran 75 plays Saturday and held onto the ball for almost 40 minutes.
As a team, it’s overcoming the onslaught of injuries it has endured. McElwain said five starters — linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, center Cam Dillard, receiver Tyrie Cleveland and kick returner Chris Thompson — are “probably out” for this weekend’s home finale against South Carolina.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us,” McElwain said.
Even at that, Florida (6-2, 4-2, No. 11 CFP), which dropped 12 spots to No. 22 in Sunday’s AP poll, still holds the keys to the division with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
There are three overarching scenarios in which the Gators can still take the division.
The first is simple: If Florida wins its final two conference games — the noon home game against South Carolina and a Nov. 19 matchup against LSU in Baton Rouge — the Gators take the division.
Should the Gators lose one of those two games, they’ll need Tennessee to lose one of its final three conference games.
Should UF completely falter down the stretch and end up with a 4-4 conference record, that’s when things start to get dicey.
In order for the Gators to win the divisional crown in that scenario, they would need Tennessee to go 1-2 down the stretch — its win coming against Kentucky and its losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt. Additionally, Georgia would need to defeat Auburn on Saturday. In this case, there would be a four-way at the top of the division, with UF, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina all boasting equal 4-4 records.
In the end, though, the Gators come out victorious in this hypothetical because of the SEC’s first two tiebreaker policies when there are three or more teams tied at the top of the division.
The first tiebreaker: Head-to-head records among the teams tied at the top. In other words, the league looks solely at matchups involving the four tied teams.
Florida and Georgia would come out with 2-1 records in this scenario (UF defeated Georgia and Kentucky while losing to South Carolina; Georgia defeated Kentucky and South Carolina but lost to Florida). The Wildcats and Gamecocks would end up with 1-2 records in the head-to-head bouts, eliminating them from contention.
Florida would come out on top because it defeated Georgia on Oct. 29.
“Our season’s not over,” said quarterback Luke Del Rio, who threw for 229 yards on 19-of-37 passing with a pair of interceptions in the loss. “It’s not like we’re 2-7 here. We’re a good team. We didn’t play well [Saturday], but we’re a good team.”