As Florida celebrated its rout of Florida State last week, the Gators weren't shy about sharing their belief that they belong in a prestigious New Year's Six bowl game.
"Absolutely," defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said.
It looks like Gardner-Johnson and his teammates are right.
By rising two spots to No. 9 Tuesday night in the College Football Playoff selection committee's latest rankings, UF is a near-lock for one of the top-tier bowls.
The Gators were the third team in the SEC, behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Georgia but ahead of No. 10 LSU. If the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs both make the semifinals, UF would earn the SEC's spot in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl. The Gators would play a Big 12 team —either No. 5 Oklahoma or No. 14 Texas.
Other scenarios remain in play, too.
In the pool of likely contenders for an at-large bid to the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl or Dec. 29 Peach Bowl, UF trails only No. 7 Michigan. The Gators are ahead of LSU, No. 12 Penn State and No. 13 Washington State. Because none of those teams play this weekend, their order seems unlikely to change.
Committee chair Rob Mullens said the Gators' head-to-head win over LSU was a factor for their high ranking, and their resume put them as the country's three-loss team.
"When you look at Florida's overall body, with their wins, it put them at 9," said Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon.
UCF remains a potential bowl opponent for the Gators. The Knights rose one spot to No. 8 —the highest ever for a Group of Five team. With a win over Memphis in Saturday's AAC championship game, UCF will clinch an at-large bid, probably to the Fiesta Bowl.
Mullens said the committee discussed the injury to star quarterback McKenzie Milton, but the Knights looked fine without him in their 38-10 win over USF.
"While they may have had to change their approach, it was still effective," Mullens said.
Nationally, the most important distinction isn't at the top, where 'Bama continues to lead No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame. It's teams 4-6 — Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
"I really don't have a measurement for closeness," Mullens said of the grouping.
But it's vital to determining which team will make the semifinals.
No team has come within 22 points of the Crimson Tide. Maybe a close Georgia loss is convincing enough to keep the Bulldogs at No. 4, even if they don't get the final boost that comes with a conference title.
Ohio State put itself back in the conversation after trouncing rival Michigan.
"It was their most complete game of the year…" Mullens said. "We moved them from No. 10 to No. 6, so clearly it had an impact."
Just not enough of one to get them past Oklahoma. And if the Sooners and what Mullens called a "historic offense" avenge their only loss to Texas, it's hard to see the Buckeyes jumping them.
Mullens said Oklahoma and Ohio State had comparable performances against their common opponent, TCU. The Sooners have a slightly tougher schedule, Mullens said. That won't change after the Sooners play the Longhorns and the Buckeyes face No. 21 Northwestern in their conference title games.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.