A dark cloud has been hovering over the Sunshine State this college football season. With Florida dropping out of the rankings following a 49-42 loss at LSU on Saturday, the state has nary a ranked team.
It is possible, though not likely, the Gators will be the only team in the state to play in a bowl. At 4-3, UF is the only one among the state’s seven Football Bowl Subdivision teams with a winning record. That is in jeopardy as well. Following a bye, Dan Mullen’s team heads to Jacksonville next week for a date against No. 1 Georgia.
Here is a look at how each team has fared to this point and what’s ahead.
Florida (4-3/2-3 SEC)
The Gators headed into October 3-1 and ranked No. 10. The only loss was to visiting Alabama (31-29) in which they roared back in the second half and gave Gator Nation much hope that this could be a special season.
Alas, losses at Kentucky and LSU have the Gators below .500 in conference play and have left them with no hope for a New Year’s Six Bowl. Even if they run the table, their three conference losses would likely prevent them from winning the SEC East and playing in the conference championship game.
A loss to the Bulldogs, the nation’s top team defensively in both scoring (6.6 points) and total defense (208 yards), would drop the Gators to .500 and needing two wins in their final four games to become bowl eligible. The big question in Gainesville is, will it be Emory Jones, who has started all seven games, or Anthony Richardson at quarterback against UGA?
“We have a bye week coming up and we will evaluate a lot of things,” said Mullen, following the LSU loss. “We are all frustrated right now. We are still grinding away.”
Florida State (2-4/2-2 ACC)
The Seminoles were winless in their first four games before defeating Syracuse and North Carolina. A bye week temporarily halted the momentum, but Mike Norvell’s team should handle lowly UMass at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday. (Then again, is anything certain in Tallahassee these days?)
“Knowing what these guys have worked through, the investment they are making and the belief that is growing, we are a team that is still working to figure things out,” said Norvell, following the win over the Tar Heels. “This is a team that believes. I work with them every day and see the gains that they are making.”
As for FSU’s chances at getting to a bowl game, well, they do not look too good. While Clemson is struggling, the ‘Noles head to Death Valley next week to take on a team that is allowing only 12.5 points per game, good for second nationally behind Georgia. November includes a visit from No. 18 North Carolina State, a home date with Miami (somebody has to win) and a trip to Gainesville. In other words, it is hard to find four wins in the final six games.
Miami (2-4/0-2 ACC)
Even with the loss of key defensive players to the NFL, there was much anticipation in Coral Gables heading into this season. In fact, the Hurricanes opened at No. 14 in the AP poll. The excitement, though, was short-lived.
Quarterback D’Eriq King was lost for the season when he suffered a shoulder injury against Michigan State on September 18. Any hope of the ‘Canes playing for an ACC championship went down with him.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke looks like he will have a promising career in Miami, especially the way he engineered comebacks against Virginia and North Carolina, though the Hurricanes fell short in both games. Any shot at a bowl would have to start with an upset over visiting and No. 18 North Carolina State on Saturday.
UCF (3-3/1-2 American)
Gus Malzahn took over a program that in a three-year stretch (2017-19) went 35-4. Even last season’s 6-4 was not that bad when considering the Knights’ three regular season losses were by a combined 12 points and quarterback Dillon Gabriel continued to develop into a big-time playmaker.
This season has been a struggle on several fronts. Gabriel went down with a broken clavicle on the final play of a loss at Louisville last month and things have continued to go downhill since. Backup quarterback Mikey Keene, a true freshman, is doing all he can. However, there is only so much he can do as injuries to key players on both sides of scrimmage have taken their toll. As for their prospect of a bowl, which would give Keene and other young players additional practices as Malzahn and his staff look forward to 2022, the Knights should be able to claim three more wins to reach the requisite six.
USF (1-5/0-2 American)
On Saturday afternoon it looked like the Bulls were going to snap a two-year drought when it came to defeating another FBS team. Instead, a pair of double-digit leads turned to heartbreak when Tulsa pulled out a last-minute win at Raymond James Stadium.
“The reason it hurts is not because we were up by 11 points or whatever it was,” said coach Jeff Scott. “The reason it hurts is because everybody put everything they had into it. They put everything on the line.”
The Bulls, who had a daunting schedule during the season’s first five weeks, are noticeably improving. There are winnable games remaining on the schedule, including Saturday night against visiting Temple. However, a team that has won two of its last 19 games needs to pick up a couple of wins — not close losses — to show that the needle is indeed pointing in the right direction.
FAU (3-3/1-1 CUSA)
Willie Taggart’s Owls join the Gators as the only FBS teams in the state without a losing record. A major reason for that has been the play of former Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry, who is fourth in the Conference USA in total offense with an average of 259 yards per game.
The Owls, who are coming off a bye, start a difficult three-game stretch this week (Charlotte, UTEP, Marshall are a combined 13-6) before the schedule concludes with three games against East Division opponents currently with losing records. They should at least break even to reach a bowl for the fourth time in the past five years.
FIU (1-5, 0-2 C-USA)
Maryland transfer quarterback Max Bortenschlager is 12th nationally in pass efficiency. That’s where the good news begins and ends for the Panthers as little else has gone right. Butch Davis, in his fifth year at FIU, has a defense that is near the bottom nationally in every major category, including ranking 122nd among 130 FBS teams in points allowed per game with 36.8.
The Panthers, who played only five games in virus-wreaked 2020, have lost 12 straight to FBS opponents dating to a landmark win over Miami in 2019. They should snap that streak and even win two or three the rest of the way behind Bortenschlager.
That will be no consolation, though, for a team that recently went to three straight bowls (2017-19). Furthermore, Davis, who made some staff changes prior to this season, may need a strong finish in order to return for a sixth season.
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