Aside from the obvious one (Georgia), Missouri football’s most apparent big-game challenge of this 2019 football season might be when Florida comes to Columbia on Nov. 16.

Dan Mullen’s Gators are 3-0 to start the season and ranked No. 9 in the AP Top 25 after beating Kentucky 29-21 Saturday.

But a closer glance at two of the Gators’ wins and where they stack up against other FBS teams begs the question: Are they overrated?

Florida is particularly newsworthy after last weekend. Its starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks, suffered a gruesome season-ending injury in the win — a dislocated ankle that included a fracture. Franks is the third SEC East quarterback out for the season with an injury.

The Gators managed a fourth-quarter comeback after losing Franks, outscoring Kentucky 19-0 to erase a late 21-10 deficit. But they had help from a missed game-winning field goal attempt by Kentucky in the last minute, sealing another narrow escape at the end of a sloppy game.

Florida survived Miami 24-20 in Week 1, too, by scoring a come-from-behind touchdown in the fourth quarter then barely holding off Miami’s final drive. That was more so thanks to the Hurricanes’ sloppiness than Florida’s own stoicism. Franks threw an implausible interception and the defense committed two costly penalties. If you squinted enough, you might have been able to see Florida trying to lose.

Nevertheless, Florida escaped. And after the magic act in Kentucky, it remains an undefeated, top-10 team. But the statistics through three games indicate the Gators’ aren’t quite sizing up like a top-10 team.

Florida ranks No. 59 in the country in total offense. That status has been largely bolstered by passing efficiency (where UF still ranks well outside the top 10 at No. 30). But again, Franks is now out for the season. The Gators are the No. 91 running team in the FBS.

Florida is plus/minus zero in turnover margin. It has an impressive six takeaways, but that also means the offense has coughed up the ball six times. Only 13 FBS teams have more turnovers.

Florida has committed 6.3 penalties per game. The Gators have given away 208 yards in penalties (69 per game), which ranks No. 109 in the country — awful, but still one spot better than Missouri.

Florida’s greatest selling point is its reputed defense, and to be fair, no one in college football has more sacks than the Gators (16). That defensive line can be ruthless. But the defensive numbers as a whole aren’t particularly great.

Florida ranks No. 33 in the country in total defense, No. 30 in run defense and No. 61 in third-down defense. And the Gators have allowed 207 passing yards per game so far, which ranks No. 59.

Missouri has played a much lighter schedule, but the Tigers still rank No. 4 in total defense so far and No. 2 in passing defense.

Florida may still prove itself to be a great team by the end of the season — it will likely be 5-0 in two weeks considering its next two opponents are FCS teams (Towson and Tennessee).

But these numbers at least show that any perceived struggles aren’t just the eye test. For now, the most important difference between Florida and Missouri is that only one of them has lost a football game. When they meet in November, the identity of each team will be much more clear. But last season, Florida entered the Missouri game as a top-15 team and got smothered by the Tigers.

So yes, it’s fair, for now, to be a little skeptical about that “9” next to the Gators’ name.

  • Bennett Durando covers Missouri football for the Columbia Missourian. He is an MU junior from St. Louis, studying sports journalism. Reach him at bdurando@outlook.com, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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