USA TODAY Sports thinks the Gators are a New Year’s Six team

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It’s not often that a team improves its national standing with a loss, but that seems to be exactly what Florida has done. The Gators fell by two points to the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, but that was fairly impressive for a game in which they were two-touchdown underdogs.

UF showed that, at the very least, it can give the nation’s best teams a competitive game. That outing seems to have made an impression on USA TODAY’s Erick Smith, who predicts that the Gators will make it to their fourth-straight New Year’s Six Bowl, facing Iowa State in the Sugar Bowl.

Here’s what Smith said about Florida.

Florida, at No. 9, was the highest-ranked team to lose last Saturday, but the Gators solidified their New Year’s Six position in the Sugar Bowl on the strength of that close defeat to Alabama.

UF hasn’t made it to the Sugar Bowl during the College Football Playoff era. The team’s last appearance in the game came after the 2012 season when it was upset by Louisville. The Gators have also never played against the Cyclones.

Smith predicts that both Georgia and Alabama will make the College Football Playoff, meaning he presumably has the Gators losing to eventual SEC East champions Georgia. However, he has Texas A&M in the Peach Bowl as an at-large, meaning that he currently sees Florida as the third-best SEC team.

Florida likely can’t afford a slipup to any team other than the Bulldogs if it wants to make a NY6 run, but a return is definitely still on the table.

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