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Five reasons to care about Florida-Missouri

The Florida Gators still have a lot to play for, even with a sleepy game in cold Columbia.

GAINESVILLE — No. 11 Florida’s trip to Missouri isn’t the most exciting matchup of the season. It’s a sleepy noon kickoff on a cold day against a 5-4 team.

But don’t ignore the Gators’ visit to Columbia. Here are five reasons to pay attention to a contest that sounds much less interesting than it really is:

1. The Gators can still win the SEC East.

It's a house divided among Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs fans during the first half at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Nov. 2. [ Times ]

UF’s hopes of heading to Atlanta obviously took a major hit with the loss to Georgia in Jacksonville, but they didn’t end there. The No. 5 Bulldogs play at No. 13 Auburn on Saturday; that’s a losable rivalry game for Georgia. If Kirby Smart’s team trips up there, then the Bulldogs must beat Texas A&M next week to win the division. That’s not a given, either. Although the Aggies are only 6-3, advanced metrics view them as a top-25 team. UF fans would be in the uncomfortable position of rooting for former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, which is interesting on its own. But none of these hypotheticals matter if the Gators lose at Mizzou.

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2. A New Year’s Six bowl game remains feasible.

Florida coach Dan Mullen leaves the field after last season's Peach Bowl victory over Michigan in Atlanta. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

There are a lot of moving parts with the prestigious major bowl games involving league tie-ins, the College Football Playoff selection committee and the bowl committees themselves. What matters is this: If the Gators keep winning, they’ll have a very strong case to earn a spot to one of the top-tier bowls. The playoff committee considers the Gators the top two-loss team in the country, ahead of undefeated Baylor and other two-loss teams like Wisconsin and Michigan. A 10-2 Florida team probably won’t be the SEC’s best non-playoff team, so the Sugar Bowl is unlikely. The Orange Bowl is a possibility, especially if two SEC teams (LSU and Alabama/Georgia) make the final four. An at-large appearance in the Cotton Bowl is also a realistic option.

Regardless of the destination, premier bowl games are a tangible part of building a championship-level program. If the Gators can qualify for another one, it’ll mark the first time they’ve made two in a row since 2008-09. A loss to Missouri would almost certainly end their chances.

3. Double-digit wins are possible, too.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, left, high-fives fans after defeating Vanderbilt last weekend. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

When he was at FSU, Fisher considered the hallmarks of a successful program to be marquee bowl games and 10-win seasons. The second part is critical, too. UF hasn’t had back-to-back 10-win seasons in a decade. Their other double-digit-win streaks: 2000-01 and 1993-98.

Add in a bowl game, and UF has the potential to finish with 11 wins — an obvious step up from last year. It’s worth noting, too, that every national champion since 2010 Auburn won at least 10 games the year before their title run.

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4. Missouri has controlled the series.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock (3) is congratulated by fans while leaving the field after a game against Florida last season. Missouri won 38-17. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Since entering the SEC, Missouri is 4-3 against the Gators and has won four of the last six matchups, including two in a row. “Obviously we didn’t perform the way we wanted to the past couple of years,” quarterback Kyle Trask said.

The Gators won’t say it, but they want to start owning this series, just as they want to avenge last year’s 38-17 embarrassment at The Swamp.

5. Mizzou will challenge the Gators where they need to be challenged.

Missouri defensive lineman Tre Williams (93) celebrates after sacking Florida quarterback Kyle Trask last season. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

The Tigers’ passing defense is allowing only 5.5 yards per attempt. That’s tied with Clemson for No. 3 nationally and means Missouri is good enough to contest the Gators’ skilled receivers. It also means the Tigers will be tough competition for Trask and redshirt freshman Emory Jones. Saturday marks another key opportunity for their development for the rest of this season heading into a fascinating battle in 2020.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes