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Florida's Not Out of the SEC East, But the Road Isn't an Easy One

The Gators face a challenging path to Atlanta despite the fact that they control their own destiny

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Season so far: Toledo, W 24-6; at Miami (FL), L 21-16; Tennessee, W 31-17, at Kentucky, W 24-7; Arkansas, W 30-10; at LSU, L 17-6

Still to go: at Missouri, vs. Georgia (Jacksonville), Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Florida State

All things being equal, I would have to disagree with Year2 on who would take over as SEC East front-runner if Missouri loses. Not because I would argue that South Carolina would be the team to beat if Missouri eventually fell, but because I believe the team in the SEC East that's almost been forgotten would be the one to watch: Florida.

The Gators remain the only SEC East team outside of Missouri to not have a loss to any other team in the division. That's a huge advantage when you start doing tiebreaker scenarios, because most of them depend on either head-to-head records or records against division opponents. So all things being equal, I would go with Florida.

But all things are not equal, and that's why I'm hesitant to flatly state that the advantage belongs to Florida. Because Florida is also unique among the SEC East teams in this regard: It still has not faced any of the contenders in the division, and it's impossible to tell how well the Gators might play when they do.

We can take guesses, of course. The likelihood of a shootout remains small, which probably works against teams like Georgia and South Carolina, particularly the latter, given that the Gamecocks' offense is still more or less intact. And while the LSU loss is a blow to the idea that the Tyler Murphy-ized Gators are extraordinarily difficult to beat, it's going to be hard for anyone in the SEC to do a passable LSU impersonation. No one in the division has a stable of running backs as strong as LSU's across the board, and none of the division teams has a defense that's going to be mistaken for a Nick Saban team.

The nagging question about that LSU loss, though, is whether the LSU defense really underwent some sort of transformation before this weekend. Because if the LSU defense is not better than we thought it was before Saturday, then it raises the possibility that the Florida offense is worse than we thought it was before Saturday. And that was not something that I had really imagined to be possible at this point.

Still, that's more a question than a definitive statement about Florida. The more pressing concern for Florida, aside from the injuries that Year2 cataloged, is that none of its games against the division contenders will be played in the Swamp. The Gators travel to Missouri and South Carolina and play Georgia in Jacksonville. That increases the odds that Florida takes a second conference loss at some point in the season, and that might be one too many in this crowded a race.

So all things being equal, Florida enters the second half of its season as a potential favorite in the SEC East. But all things rarely are.