Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia is in good shape, playoff-wise. And it won't lose to Florida

It was another in a series of splendid Saturdays for Georgia, which didn’t play. Kentucky did, not so you could tell, and lost by 38 points to a team these Bulldogs beat by 28. This left every other SEC East team with at least two conference losses, which tells us – not for the first or even the 50th time – much about the SEC East. It also tells us that Georgia, even if it pulls another no-show in Jacksonville, can still win the division.

The bigger news was that Notre Dame beat USC 49-14. As essential as it is for Georgia to win the East, holding credibility on the national level is Job 1-b. The only knock on the Bulldogs is that they haven’t beaten anyone of consequence in SEC play. (Their four victims are an aggregate 2-12 in league games.) Apart from Auburn, no ranked team remains on the schedule. This isn’t a huge issue just yet, but it could become one on the morning of Dec. 3, the day the College Football Playoff is set.

Notre Dame hasn’t lost since falling to the Bulldogs 20-19 on Sept. 10. If the Irish run the table, they’ll have a case for the CFP. A 12-1 Georgia bearing an honorable loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game would have a better case. Such handicapping might seem premature, but the playoff has changed college football. As nice as it is to win a division or even a conference, the idea is to make the final four.

As it stands, Georgia is nicely positioned. Among ACC teams, only Miami remains unbeaten – and it faces Virginia Tech on Nov. 4 and Notre Dame the next week. Among Big 12 teams, only TCU is – and it faces Oklahoma on Nov. 11. Among Big Tenners, only Penn State and Wisconsin are – and at least one is guaranteed to lose by Dec. 3. Among the Pac-12, nobody’s undefeated.

Georgia now has multiple paths to the playoff. If it’s an undefeated SEC champ, it’s in as the No. 1 seed. If it’s a one-loss SEC champ, it’s likewise in. If it’s a one-loss SEC runner-up, it could make it – provided the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 champs aren’t all undefeated, which would be an utter shock.

This is all – big “duh” coming – dependent on the Bulldogs continuing to win, and we’ve arrived at that week where dreams go to die. It’s Georgia-Florida week. If I had a million bucks for every time I’ve said, “There’s no way Georgia is losing to the Gators," I’d be sitting in my Monte Carlo villa gazing at the Mediterranean and wondering which tuxedo I’ll wear to the casino tonight.

You want me to say it? I’ve been wrong -- a lot -- about Georgia not losing to Florida.

Now hear this: This Georgia is not losing to this Florida.

The Gators are 3-3 and lucky to be that. They beat Tennessee – about that sad program, we can never say too much – on a touchdown at 0:00 after blowing a 10-point lead with five minutes left. They beat Kentucky when the Wildcats, reverting to time-honored form, failed to cover a receiver on the goal line with 43 seconds left and then backed themselves out of field goal range via a holding penalty on a running play.

As bad, at least by Florida standards, as the Gators were under Ron Zook, they were never quite like this. Every Zook team – there were three – won at least seven games. If we go by ESPN’s Football Power Index, these Gators will finish 5-6 . (Their Northern Colorado game was canceled by Hurricane Irma.)

Florida hasn’t had an offense since Urban Meyer left to spend more time with his family, but Will Muschamp’s teams could at least play defense. The difference now is that Jim McElwain, an old offensive coordinator, has worked 2-1/2 years without finding a quarterback, though he has tried many.

Florida’s total offense rankings in four seasons under Muschamp – 105th, 103rd, 114th and 93rd. Its rankings under McElwain – 111th, 116th and now 102nd. See the improvement? No? The Gainesville grumbling has risen to a level that McElwain’s consecutive SEC East titles have been all but forgotten. In the cold light of hindsight, Florida’s accomplishments in 2015 and 2016 seem due more to the failures of Georgia and Tennessee than to any Gator excellence. (There's another "duh.")

The 2015 Gators were eighth nationally in total defense. The 2016 edition was fifth. This crew is 36th. (Georgia is third.) Even if Saturday in Jacksonville dawns as frigid as in 1991 or as rainy as in 1992, there’s little chance that Florida can hold Georgia under 20 points, and in the Gators’ last two games – both home losses – they’ve managed 16 and 17, respectively. The forecast, FYI, is for 80 degrees and cloudy skies.

About here, you’re saying: “But isn’t McElwain 2-0 against Georgia? Wasn’t the Zooker 2-1? Didn’t both of Mark Richt’s SEC champions lose in Jax?” Well, yes. But Richt no longer coaches the Bulldogs, and Faton Bauta isn’t walking through that door . This game has surprised me many times, but I’d be very surprised if Georgia doesn’t win by 20.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.