It must feel like something of a formality for writers and bloggers to talk about how their team could redefine their program if they beat Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. So it is with that in mind that I carefully begin this article about what it would mean if the Florida Gators can do the unthinkable and knock down big, bad, Bama.
All kinds of data points are against Florida.
For example, Alabama hasn’t lost to an SEC East opponent since 2010, when Stephen Garcia and the South Carolina Gamecocks got the better of them in Columbia. Since then, Alabama has ripped off 31 wins in a row over East Division teams. In fact, Nick Saban has beaten Florida seven straight times.
Then there’s the current dominance Saban’s program has shown. You’d think after losing the likes of Mac Jones, Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Najee Harris to the NFL, the Crimson Tide would have at least some trouble reloading. Instead, Alabama started the 2021 season by humiliating the Miami Hurricanes on the strength of new starter Bryce Young, his favorite weapon in John Metchie, and an opportunistic defense led by Phidarian Mathis.
Florida, for its part, comes into this game with two games against directional Group Of Five teams under its belt. While the Gators didn’t exactly struggle against FAU or USF, they certainly looked less dominant than Alabama looked against a better opponent. In other words, there’s a reason why Alabama is currently a 14.5 point favorite according to the oddsmakers in Vegas.
Games are won on the field, though, not in Vegas. It’s pretty well known at this point that Florida has shown some cracks in its armor (namely the QB position and defensively), while the Crimson Tide has looked more or less invincible. But who knows?
Bryce Young has never started a game before in such a hostile environment. Maybe this was the week of practice where things clicked for Emory Jones. Maybe Dan Mullen comes out firing quick screens and flares to get him into a rhythm, and all of a sudden, the confidence of hitting some passes results in Jones seeing the field more clearly and making better decisions.
To be clear, it’s never going to be easy to outright predict anything of the sort for all the same reasons that everybody who’s picked Alabama to lose any game since the 2019 Iron Bowl was wrong. But if the unthinkable does happen, and Florida pulls the upset, it will be the biggest win this program has had since Dan Mullen’s last stint in Gainesville as the offensive coordinator.
In fairness, it’s not like there have been a great deal of statement wins since the Gators took down Oklahoma to win the 2008 national championship. There were three nice wins in 2012 against LSU, South Carolina and FSU, but none of those teams seriously competed for the national title that year. There was a nice win over Mississippi in 2015, but that turned out to be fool’s gold; Will Grier’s subsequent PED suspension and departure left a void that plunged Florida back into the dark ages for a few more seasons. And there were big wins in the Swamp in 2018 against LSU and 2019 against Auburn, but neither of those programs carries the aura of invincibility that Alabama does.
A win over Alabama would redefine the way people look at this Florida Gators program. The Gators would no longer be a mere player for a New Year’s Six Bowl, but a member of college football’s elite tier. Dan Mullen’s supposed inability to take his Florida Gators to the top of the college football mountain would have a major data point against it. Recruits (many of whom will be in attendance tomorrow) would take notice, and the shockwaves that a victory would create would reverberate throughout the recruiting world and even make up for some of Mullen’s weaknesses on the recruiting trail.
And, oh yeah- a win tomorrow buys Florida immunity from a loss, any one loss, on its schedule the rest of the season (other than Samford). That includes Georgia, that includes LSU, that includes a potential rematch with Alabama, that even includes FSU. Notre Dame showed us last year that you can beat the number one team in the country, lose a game in less-than-impressive fashion later on down the road, and still reach the CFP. And Florida would be doing so as a member of the SEC.
So just win tomorrow, Florida. I know how unlikely the oddsmakers say it is. I know how unlikely fans of neutral teams think it is. And yes, I even have plenty of doubts myself about how likely it is. Just win.