If you win, you’re in.
That’s the motto for the Florida Gators this week. Facing its only remaining conference game, all Florida needs to do in order clinch the SEC East division title is win against LSU on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Gators, that’s no small feat.
Just two weeks ago, the race to Atlanta had a lot more drivers. Before Kentucky lost to Tennessee and Florida beat South Carolina, all four of those teams had at least an outside shot to represent the division in the SEC championship game. While that chapter ended for the Wildcats and Gamecocks, the story hasn’t changed for the Gators.
Since Tennessee’s loss to Alabama, Florida has controlled its own destiny. Despite losing to the Volunteers, Florida has held the lead in the division since the Vols fell to the Crimson Tide. With only one conference loss to Tennessee’s two, Florida would maintain the lead throughout the end of the regular season — provided the Gators didn’t lose.
Tennessee was hardly in Florida’s rearview mirror after the Vols stumbled in Columbia. After starting the season 5-0 (2-0 in conference play), Tennessee had three losses, all of which came in conference play. The Gators were given a free loss. They could lose another game and still be firmly in the driver’s seat. The very next week, Arkansas gave the Gators a 31-10 bludgeoning.
Alas, they still had a one-game lead over the Vols. There would be no pressing of the panic button. Tennessee could still lose to Kentucky, right?
Well, that didn’t happen. Florida still has the lead in the SEC East, however. The Gators can win against LSU in Baton Rouge and remove all doubt. Even if they don’t, they’ll still be in the race. A loss to the Tigers would put Florida at 5-3 in conference play. With only Florida State left on the schedule after Saturday, this is the Gators’ only shot to wrap up the division on their own.
For Tennessee, the road to Atlanta is still open, it’s just a bit narrower. The Vols need the Gators to lose on Saturday to LSU. They’ve got to take care of their own business, also. If Tennessee can get a gift from the Bayou Bengals, wins against Missouri and Vanderbilt would give the Volunteers a last-minute ticket to the SEC Championship.
There are a lot of “ifs” swirling around the SEC East. If the Gators win, they’re in. If Tennessee wins out and Florida loses, the Vols will be SEC East champions. But there are no real winners here. If a team wins the division, it still has to play Alabama.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam