October 16, 2010
Mississippi State 10, Florida 7. Sure, Steve Addazio isn't exactly in an ideal position right now for an offensive coordinator. The Gators have issues: A young, banged-up quarterback. An injury-plagued line. The ongoing absences of top playmakers Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, joined tonight by redshirt freshman Andre Debose. The kicking game, another Achilles heel tonight at the end of both halves. Deonte Thompson's hands. Pick a scapegoat, any scapegoat.
But no list of injuries or other excuses will ever placate Florida fans over a seven-point effort against Mississippi State, at home, under any circumstances. Six points at Alabama is weak. 243 yards against LSU is unsettling. Seven points against Mississippi State is a five-alarm catastrophe.
In this case, the sinking feeling goes even deeper when those same fans consider that the guy on the opposite sideline who punk'd the Gators tonight used to be one of their own: MSU coach Dan Mullen was the brain behind the attacks that left a scorched-earth trail through the SEC and school record books en route to BCS titles in 2006 and 2008. Now he has Mississippi State on its first four-game winning streak in a decade, barreling toward a bowl game with a genuinely productive offense for a change, while Florida continues to run the option with John Brantley and sink ever closer to Zook-era levels of frustration. Even Zook's teams never lost three games in a row.
The current Gators have to live with the skid for another two weeks before the annual Cocktail Party showdown with Georgia, which suddenly takes on significant and foreboding overtones in a frankly depressing East Division race. The only possible solace for Florida is that the rest of the division is matching it, flop for flop. With UF dropping to 2-3, the only team in the East with a non-losing SEC record is South Carolina, fresh off gaffing itself into a loss at Kentucky that dropped the Gamecocks to a modest 2-2. Vanderbilt is a half-game out of first place. At 0-3, Tennessee is still technically in the mix. And Georgia, with a 43-0 shellacking of Vandy and a new mascot en tow, may be coming out of its early slide at precisely the right time to make a run as king of the scrap heap.
At the moment, I'd take Mississippi State to beat them all – especially since the Bulldogs actually have beaten two of them. When the polls are released Sunday, the West Division will outnumber the East at least four-to-one, and possibly five-to-one. After South Carolina, the rest of the East is likely to be shut out of the "Also Receiving Votes" category, even the mighty Gators, after 86 consecutive weeks in the top 20 since Urban Meyer took over in 2005. It's certainly not a beauty contest, but if nothing else, there's still a scrap heap to win.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.