NASHVILLE — With Penn State's 24-23 loss to Iowa on Saturday afternoon, Florida's chances of making it to the BCS national championship game improved dramatically.
With one huge caveat.
The Gators need to win the remainder of their games, including the SEC championship.
"The leading contenders are now the SEC champ and the Big 12 champ, whoever they happen to be," said Jerry Palm, considered among the leading experts of the Bowl Championship Series rankings and publisher of CollegeBCS.com. "USC cannot be ruled out, though."
Entering Saturday, the Gators needed a Penn State loss to bolster their chances because conventional wisdom said they wouldn't jump an undefeated Nittany Lions team, and Florida remained behind one-loss Texas in the BCS standings.
Palm correctly picked the Gators to reach the 2006 national title game — before anyone else. Florida jumped to No. 2 in the final BCS rankings after defeating Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game that season, then defeated Ohio State in the national championship game.
Palm said a similar scenario is possible for the Gators this season.
"Their biggest competition for a spot would be a 12-1 Big 12 champ," Palm said. "Then it might come down to voters."
Alabama's 27-21 overtime victory over LSU also could help. When Florida and Alabama meet in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Dec. 6, the Gators would benefit most with a victory if the Crimson Tide remains No. 1.
"It's not absolutely necessary (for UF to get in), but it's better for Florida if 'Bama is unbeaten," Palm said. "It would make the win more impressive."
What Florida can least afford is to get ahead of itself. Its remaining schedule: home games against South Carolina and Citadel, the regular-season finale at Florida State, and the SEC title game against Alabama.
Ultimately, what may cost Florida in the end is a missed extra point in the loss at home to unranked Ole Miss.
"No question their brand name helps them against teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State," Palm said. "However, if the issue of which one-loss team to choose ever gets seriously discussed, Florida easily has the worst loss and that could come back to bite them."