When Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked Saturday about his No. 11 Gators’ shot at making a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game, he deflected the question to his boss.
“I have no idea,” Mullen said. “There’s a guy in the back.”
That guy with his arms crossed in the back of the room, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin, doesn’t really know, either. Even though he’s part of the College Football Playoff committee that decides who makes the semifinals and the four other top-tier bowls, Stricklin must leave the room when his 12 colleagues discuss the Gators.
We’re in the dark, too. We’ll know more after the committee releases its latest top 25 Tuesday night, but UF’s destination can change with an upset or two in this weekend’s conference title games.
With those caveats out of the way, here’s the case for UF in a New Year’s Six game, the case against the Gators and which potential matchups are the most appealing:
The case for the Gators
In a season with few upper-middle class teams, UF is as good as any of them. The Gators rank in the top 35 nationally in yards per play and yards per play allowed; no other team in the mix for an at-large bid to the Peach or Fiesta Bowl can make that claim.
The Gators finished 9-3 with the nation’s 18th hardest schedule (according to S&P+ advanced metrics). Among the at-large contenders, only LSU had a tougher schedule, and UF beat those Tigers, who are also 9-3.
Add in a victory at Mississippi State, and UF has a pair of wins over teams ranked in the top 20 in the latest AP poll. No other contender has more. Penn State has none.
The case against the Gators
Advanced metrics don’t rank the Gators in their top 12. While most teams play only one Division I-AA opponent, UF played two as part of a weak non-conference schedule.
The Gators’ three losses came by a combined 49 points, including a 21-point shellacking at home to Mizzou. That stacks up very poorly against the other at-large contenders:
Penn State: Two of its three losses were by five total points, including a 27-26 defeat to playoff contender Ohio State
Texas: All three losses were decided by less than a touchdown
LSU: Saturday’s defeat came after seven overtimes
Michigan: Only lost by seven at playoff-bound Notre Dame
West Virginia: Last two defeats were by seven total points
Washington State: First loss was by three to USC amidst an officiating controversy
UCF: It lost some luster when Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a traumatic leg injury, but the battle for Sunshine State supremacy is still the most exciting option. The Gators’ defense would be a tough challenge for UCF’s high-scoring offense. Bonus points for a scheduling quirk that’d give UF three consecutive games against in-state teams (between last week’s win over Florida State and next year’s opener against Miami in Orlando).
Michigan: The Gators already beat one former coach this year (South Carolina’s Will Muschamp). How about a crack at another, Wolverines assistant Jim McElwain?
Washington State: We know Mike Leach doesn’t believe in Bigfoot. How does the Pirate feel about Florida’s skunk apes? Also, the on-field matchup would feature a lot of points.
Boise State: It’d only happen if the Broncos beat Fresno State for the Mountain West title and UCF loses to Memphis. But Boise State is a fun program with a good offense.
Penn State: Quarterback Trace McSorley is great, but the Nittany Lions aren’t as interesting or entertaining as they were last year.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.