As we enter the seventh week of the college football season, we’re starting to see some separation at the top. With that in mind, this week we’ll be examining the SEC contenders’ paths to the title game in Atlanta.
Current record: 6-0, 4-0 in SEC
Remaining schedule: 10/17 at LSU, 10/31 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville), 11/7 vs. Vanderbilt, 11/14 at South Carolina, 11/21 vs. Florida Atlantic, 11/28 vs. Florida State
Rankings: No. 8 (AP), No. 13 (FPI)
Toughest obstacle: Understand that the toughest obstacle is not necessarily the most important game remaining on the schedule. Because while the most important game is still the matchup with Georgia in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” the toughest game will be this weekend at LSU. Florida gets the privilege of trying to slow down Leonard Fournette, the best player in college football right now. And while this is a defense that has been outstanding against the pass, we’ll find out just how good they are against the run. The offense will be challenged, too. As we now know, Treon Harris will get the start Saturday in place of Will Grier (we’ll get to that), and Death Valley isn’t exactly friendly to opposing quarterbacks. Harris will be thrown into the Tigers' den and if he struggles, there’s no other alternative.
Upset alert: If you look at Florida’s remaining schedule, three of the six games (LSU, Georgia and Florida State) could go either way. The other three, the Gators should handle with relative ease, so picking a potential upset is not easy. South Carolina might have been an option had Steve Spurrier not retired this week, but the game to keep an eye on is Vanderbilt. Don’t laugh. The Commodores have one of the better defenses in the entire conference, and for a Florida team that struggled some on offense before its quarterback was suspended, that’s dangerous. Expect a low-scoring, defensive battle, and sometimes those games can go either way. It’s also sandwiched in between Georgia and South Carolina, making it easy to overlook.
Question to be answered: Can Florida overcome the loss of Grier at quarterback? It was maybe the most shocking news of the day Monday, which is saying something given how crazy the day was in college football. But Grier is out and Harris is in. The good news for the Gators is that Harris has experience. He started the final six games of 2014 and the season opener this year. His teammates know what to expect. From a scheme standpoint, he’s a better runner than he is a passer which goes against what Jim McElwain does traditionally, but McElwain has shown he’s one of the best at putting his quarterbacks in the best situations to make plays. With one of the better defenses in college football on his side, Harris won’t have to do much. Just make enough plays to win games. He proved at times last year that he's more than capable of doing that.
X factor: On offense, you could make a case for Jake McGee who continues to make critical catches for this football team week in and week out. But we haven’t talked about the defense yet, and the X-factor for that group is defensive end CeCe Jefferson. The freshman has cracked the rotation on the defensive line, earning starts against Kentucky and Tennessee, and through the first six games, he has 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. If he can continue to improve and play with consistency, he adds another pass-rusher up front that only makes this defense scarier to opposing offenses. Imagine Jefferson and Alex McCalister coming off each end with Jon Bullard and Caleb Brantley rushing up the middle. Good luck.