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Column: Florida may not be great, but good enough to win it all

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Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012 12:43 am | Updated: 5:36 pm, Wed Aug 28, 2013.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida won again, and as usual it wasn’t pretty.

Against what should have been a clearly overmatched Vanderbilt team, UF looked beatable. The Commodores took an early lead and only narrowly lost the total yardage battle as Jeff Driskel failed to pass for even 100 yards for the second week in a row.

Facing No. 9 South Carolina next weekend, it’d be easy to write things like, “Florida won’t be able to win if it can’t pass,” and “The Gators’ effort won’t get it done against the Gamecocks.”

But you know what? It probably will. No matter how unimpressive Florida continually is against unranked opponents, it doesn’t matter. There’s no debating the fact: This is one of the best teams in college football.

Whether it’s because talent is more balanced, or the Southeastern Conference is down, or the entire NCAA is down, this uninspiring Florida team is one of the best anywhere.

South Carolina should be a challenge, but a 23-21 loss at LSU makes the Gamecocks look like a favorable matchup. The Tigers — who the Gators beat just a week ago — won despite an ugly passing game by racking up 258 yards on the ground. LSU attempted only two passes while running the ball 15 times in the fourth quarter. If that’s the formula to beat South Carolina, then Florida should be a substantial favorite.

So then what remaining game will Florida be the underdog in? Will UF not be a favorite against the Georgia team that got blown out by South Carolina? Is Florida really in trouble against the Florida State squad that just lost to N.C. State?

This isn’t a prediction that UF will run the table. The Gators proved with their performance on Saturday that, on a bad day, they could lose just about any game. But they could also win them all, and that’s not something many expected coming into the year.

The reason for hesitation is simple: Florida isn’t overwhelmingly dominant. The faults are obvious, and they show in the results. On average, last season’s top 10 teams defeated unranked opponents by 25.7 points per game. Through four of those games this season, Florida’s average margin of victory is 17 points.

This Gators team is by no means historically dominant. But in the landscape of college football this season, it doesn’t matter.

Defending national champion Alabama is the unanimous No. 1 in this year’s poll. But this Crimson Tide team is unquestionably worse than last year’s. Four players were selected in the first round, including Heisman finalist Trent Richardson and three players from one of the best defenses in NCAA history.

If that team was around this season, Florida wouldn’t be in the national championship discussion. Hell, I’d bet none of these teams would be. Sure, Florida is improved. But would this year’s Florida even be in the top 10 last year?

Wisconsin was No. 10 in last season’s final AP Poll. Quarterback Russell Wilson is a starter in the NFL and Montee Ball scored 39 touchdowns. Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis would both be the best wideout on Florida’s roster. The offensive line, headed by first-round pick Kevin Zeitler and second-round pick Peter Konz, was as strong as any in the nation. The defense was top-15 nationally.

This Florida team would not be in the national championship discussion most other seasons. But guess what? It isn’t most other years. It’s 2012, and Florida has as good a shot as anybody to play for the national championship when January rolls around.

Contact Greg Luca at gluca@alligator.org.

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