On paper, Florida should win its SEC finale at Missouri tomorrow.
The Gators are the No. 11 team in the nation, are 8-2 on the season and are coming off a 56-0 thrashing of Vanderbilt. The Tigers, on the other hand, are 5-4 and are coming off three-straight losses, one of them to Vandy.
The game, however, will not be played on paper. It will be played at 11 a.m. CDT (noon EST) against a team fighting for its coach’s job in 40-something degree weather in front of a hostile Missouri crowd.
“I think they’ve blown out just about everybody that’s come in there,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Obviously a huge challenge.”
You never know what you’re going to get with Missouri.
The Tigers have an NFL Draft prospect at quarterback in Kelly Bryant, who missed last week’s 27-0 loss to Georgia but is slated to play tomorrow. They have Nick Bolton, the SEC’s leading tackler, at linebacker. They also have the fifth-best scoring defense in the conference and were the 22nd-ranked team in the country less than a month ago.
Inexplicably, though, Missouri has lost to the bottom two teams in the SEC East (Kentucky and Vanderbilt), as well as Wyoming, putting coach Barry Odom firmly on the hot seat.
One thing is clear about Florida’s opponent — they play better at home than they do away from it. The Tigers are undefeated (5-0) at Faurot Field.
“They get home, something clicks with them, and they blow teams out. So, we’ve got to be ready for that,” defensive back Marco Wilson said. “We know they’re going to be hyped up.”
Recent history is also not in Florida’s favor tomorrow.
The Gators are just 3-5 against Missouri all-time and have lost each of the last two years by a combined score of 83-33. UF was favored in both those games, just like it is Saturday.
“Bitter taste,” defensive lineman Adam Shuler said about last year’s game. “That’s not really our motivation, just to get revenge. That’s not our whole key this week. It’s just the next big game.”
Still, Florida is ranked where it is for a reason. It’s a game the Gators should win, especially since they’ve gotten healthier over recent weeks. But, as we’ve seen before, Missouri can’t be overlooked.
An upset loss would officially bury UF’s slim hopes at a division title. A likely appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl would become a long-shot. For Missouri, a win would clinch bowl eligibility and give a lifeline to Odom. For both teams, the temperature will be low and the stakes will be high in front of a national CBS audience.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected]