Gators Are Fringe BCS Title Contenders
The first polls of the year just came out.
Like it or not, these initial polls, based on speculation and tradition, have an enormous impact on the season. Only three unranked teams ever have won the national championship, and the only team to win a championship after starting outside the Top 20 was Auburn in 2010. Rankings matter. They give a team the benefit of the doubt amongst other teams with similar win/loss records. Most champions start high in the preseason polls.
Florida is ranked 10th in the preseason coaches polls. This is good and bad for the Gators. They are just inside the championship window of the Top 10, though most champs come from the Top Five. They also play two of the teams ranked above them. The race for the SEC East should come down to Florida (10), South Carolina (7) and Georgia (5). All three teams are in the Top 10 and one from that group will fight its way to Atlanta. Texas A&M (6) and Alabama (1) make it five SEC teams in the Top 10.
The way the polls have started, Florida will need help to make it to the national championship game. If Florida ran the table and went undefeated through the SEC, no one would hold them out of the big game. However, Florida fans should expect at least one loss running through the South Carolina, Georgia and LSU gauntlet.
If the Gators make it through with one loss, they likely will meet an undefeated or one-loss Alabama/Texas A&M in Atlanta. But winning the SEC in this scenario still would not guarantee a spot in the championship.
The SEC champion will get a lot of respect in the polls, but a one-loss SEC champion could be kept out of the national championship if two undefeated teams from major conferences still are standing after the season. That team will not come from the Pac-12, since Oregon and Stanford play each other. But Gators fans with dreams of a crystal football need to pull for three non-SEC teams that will be ahead of them in the polls (the group of Ohio State, Clemson, Louisville and the winner of the Oregon/Stanford game) to lose at least once during the season. If not, Florida will be just outside the championship game, trying to get excited to play in a meaningless Sugar Bowl.
The Pac-12 looks deeper than most years, so it is plausible that the Pac 12 champion could have one loss. Clemson is unproven and could stumble against a Top 25 team. But Ohio State and Louisville look leagues above their competition this season. For Florida to play for a championship, they will need major upsets to at least one of those two.
All this to say, Florida is ranked high enough to control its own destiny. However, if the Gators lose one game, which is likely, the Orange and Blue will need some help to get into the National Championship game, even with an SEC championship on its resume.