Jim McElwain's Gators have their work cut out for them to simply qualify for a bowl game
If it wasn’t for a couple of miracle plays, the Florida Gators could easily be 1-5 heading into their bye week. As it is, the Gators are 3-3 (3-2 SEC), and while a third straight SEC East title is unlikely, the team could still become bowl eligible.
At the halfway point, the Gators' offense is ranked 105th in the country (351.2 yards per game). Florida's defense is leading the way once again, currently ranking 41st in the FBS (354.8 ypg).
Things won't get much easier for the Gators from here out with games against Georgia, Florida State, South Carolina, Missouri and UAB still on tap.
Offensive MVP: RB Malik Davis
There were not many choices for this honor during the first half, but Davis could finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards. In six games, Davis has run for 506 yards and two touchdowns. He also has six catches for another 52 yards.
Defensive MVP: LB David Reese
Not only is Reese the leading tackler at this point (53), he also has four tackles for loss, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks through the first six games. He is one of the leaders on a young Florida defense that lost several key players to graduation and the NFL draft. The Gators are showing some signs of improvement, holding their past four opponents to an average of 315.5 yards per game, with Reese playing a key role.
Best Moment of First Half: Game-winning TD vs. Tennessee
Who can forget Feleipe Franks’ (above, right) game-winning touchdown pass as time expired to defeat Tennessee in the Swamp?
Best Newcomer: ATH Kadarius Toney
Toney, a high school quarterback who was converted to wide receiver after the spring, has been used primarily in the Gators’ wildcat package and as a slot receiver. He has 225 yards from scrimmage (118 rushing, 107 receiving), and a touchdown on 23 total touches.
Biggest surprises: Loss to Texas A&M
Florida has lost three games to this point, but the one to Texas A&M at home has been the toughest one to swallow.
With a chance to potentially win the game late in the fourth quarter, Feleipe Franks threw a terrible interception, ending any hopes of pulling off the comeback. That loss in particular may have knocked the Gators out of the SEC East race even though there's still half of the season to go.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Can the offense improve?
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been under fire all season long. Florida ranks 105th nationally in total offense and and is tied for 97th in scoring offense (23.7 ppg), as the team has yet to find an answer at quarterback. With Luke Del Rio out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury, it appears that Feleipe Franks will be the starter the rest of the way. The redshirt freshman will need to improve or the Gators' season could really go south.
2. Will Florida become bowl eligible?
With games left against Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, it will be tough for the Gators to qualify for a bowl this season. It’s a fairly safe assumption that Florida will be an underdog against the Bulldogs and maybe even the Gamecocks since that game is in Columbia. The Seminoles have to come to Gainesville and while Florida State is not living up to its preseason expectations there's still plenty of talent on this team and the Noles could be hitting their stride come late November.
3. Can the Gators end their losing streak against the Seminoles?
Florida has lost four straight games to Florida State, but this could be its best opportunity to end the losing streak. Much like the Gators, the Seminoles have had their problems on offense, as they are averaging just 18.2 points per game. That's the fewest among any Power 5 team and 120th among all FBS teams. The season-ending injury suffered by Deondre Francois in the opener against Alabama has impacted FSU more than was even speculated at the time.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Oct. 28 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Bulldogs are ranked third in the nation as they’re 7-0 and in first place in the SEC East. Georgia also leads the conference in total defense (252.6 ypg, third in the FBS) and is getting plenty of support from its offense (454.3 ypg, 36th) as well.
2. Nov. 11 at South Carolina
The Gamecocks are 5-2 and are 3-2 in the SEC. South Carolina is led by quarterback Jake Bentley, who has thrown for 1,585 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp would love nothing more than to end the Gators' chances of becoming bowl eligible.
3. Nov. 25 Florida State
Believe it or not, but the season finale between the Sunshine State rivals could end up determining if one or both teams goes to a bowl game. The Seminoles' offense has been a mirror image of the Gators (i.e., bad), so points could be hard to come by for both teams.
4. Nov. 4 at Missouri
Missouri is just 1-5 at the halfway point of its season. However, the Tigers have shown some signs of improvement on offense, scoring a total of 62 points in their two most recent losses (at Kentucky, at Georgia). Florida has scored more than 28 points just once this season (38 vs. Vanderbilt).
5. Nov. 18 UAB
While some may think UAB could be an easy win for Florida, think again. The Blazers are 4-2 and are in second place in the Conference USA West Division. In their first season back after a two-year hiatus, UAB could play in a postseason bowl.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.