Top Five Florida Gators Football Rivalries: No. 3 LSU

This is the second in a five-part series. Click to read part one and two.

It’s time to examine the third biggest rival for to the Florida Gators football program. As always, these are based off my own opinions, and are sure to elicit some emotion from Gator fans – no matter who you think is the biggest rival. Third man up …

No 3. LSU

To be honest with you, I had no beef with LSU for a long time. Yes they played the Gators, but growing up, they didn’t really pose much of a threat (save for 1997). Then came the arrival of Nick Saban. And next Les Miles. And then, most importantly, I lived there.

From 2010 through most of 2011, I called New Orleans home. While I definitely made lifelong friends and some great memories in Louisiana, I also received a first class education in Tiger fans. By and large most LSU fans possess a unique ability to burrow into that one spot under your skin that so rattles you, and it just makes you want to beat the living hell out of their team on the field. And as much as it got to me some days, there is a deep level of respect in my saying that. The friends I made there are among the most dedicated fans of college football I’ve ever seen (including a group that, collectively, has not missed an LSU game – ANY game – since the 1980s and 90s, and one who leads assorted “Morally Bankrupt” tailgaters parades).

Folks, if you’ve not been to Baton Rouge, plan a trip NOW. I promise it will be one of the best (win or lose) of your life. The people are crazy (but fun); the food (especially at The Chimes with their world famous fried heavenly goodness that are boudain balls) is delicious (and will take years off your life – but who cares?!); the friends you make will last you a lifetime; the tailgating is indescribably amazing; and the drinks flow just a trickle less than Niagara Falls.

And the shirts from a certain writer of this very piece aren’t bad either …

Maybe it’s the noise in Death Valley; maybe it’s the classless chants (NSFW) that women and children need not be present for (and even make men like me raise an eyebrow); maybe it’s the “jump pass” heard round the world from 2006; maybe it’s the “Phone Gate” with Tim Tebow in the “five for five on fourth down” game in 2007; or maybe it’s the rating GQ Magazine gave them in 2011 – but Tiger fans’ passion for their team and hatred of anyone/everyone else  is something for which they are unapologetically rabid (and by their own admission, frequently be over the top).

This is the most passionate, arguably the most enthusiastic, and most deeply loyal-to-a-fault fan base in the country. Rain, shine, thick, thin, championship or not: LSU fans support their team, and aren’t afraid to show it wherever they are.

I deeply respect them for that, but when it comes to playing the Gators I want this one badly. It may not be the oldest rivalry in the SEC (only being an annual affair since 1971), but it is heated – and one that respects the greatness of the both sides. It is a rivalry that is usually hard-fought on the field (rarely to a high score), and causes many “what-if’s” after what is sometimes a painful slug-fest of a loss. It’s also a rivalry that frequently has championship implications. In total, the Gators and Tigers have combined to win five national championships and eleven SEC titles over the past two decades.

LSU, year in and year out, is one of the most talented teams in college football. Solid recruiting, quality development of players, and NFL draft potential all contribute to consistent 9-10 win seasons in Baton Rouge. So it’s not a revelation to say that facing LSU (even while playing them at home this season) will be daunting.

However, they have some challenges as well. LSU has had a combined 18 players selected 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts (most in the country), and that turnover will present some major adjustment issues for the Tigers this year.

Cole Cubelic put it into a stark perspective on his Twitter feed:

QB Zach Mettenberger is now a Tennessee Titan, and has left a QB battle in the wake of his departure. Either sophomore Anthony Jennings or true freshman Brandon Harris will lead the Tigers next season.

Jennings played sparingly as Mettenberger’s backup in 2013, and led LSU to a miraculous (doesn’t LSU always seem to have these?!) win over Arkansas. However, he was subpar in his first career start (7 for 19 with one INT) versus Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

Harris, on the other hand, had a spectacular spring – especially considering the short amount of time he had to learn offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s schemes and plays. He accounted for four touchdowns, while Jennings accounted for two INT’s (both of which were returned for touchdowns). With its season opener against a formidable Wisconsin team, LSU won’t have much time to figure out a murky QB situation.

In addition to its signal caller, LSU lost its two starting wide receivers in Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, as well as star running back Jeremy Hill. While it is an absolute testament to the LSU program to have had so many players drafted, the offense has some major holes to fill in 2014. The three aforementioned players plus Mettenberger combined for a whopping 84% of LSU’s total plays on offense in 2013.

LSU has issues on defense, as well. Usually one of the most vaunted units in the SEC, it was surprisingly mediocre in 2014. The Tigers allowed an alarming 340 yards per game and 5.08 yards per play in 2013. They finished outside the top 10 in total defense nationally for the first time since 2010, and out of the top 25 in yards-per-play since 2008.

The defensive line presents some major issues for the Tigers coming into 2014, with improving the pass rush being a paramount goal for Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis. Like Florida on offense, the talent is there, but they vastly underachieved. The line needs to create impact players beyond Danielle Hunter, and Jermauria Rasco needs to come of age after an underwhelming junior season. LSU has long been known as DBU (Defensive Backs University), but these young men (and others around them) need to step it up if is to be more successful in 2014.

But for all the red flags, the green unit held the league’s top offense of 2013 (Texas A&M) to both it’s lowest point yard totals in a dominating 34-10 win last year. And the offense did help LSU notch yet another 10 win season for the Mad Hatter.

LSU will always be LSU: recruiting successfully, reloading (not rebuilding), and loudly whining about SEC schedules. There are some major question marks heading into 2014 for the Bayou Bengals, but don’t for one minute think this is a “down year” – because they just don’t have those.

This game is special, and that is the exact reason why, year in and year out, it is utterly impossible to predict. Games at Florida Field have given Les Miles fits over the years (evidenced in a 1-3 record in the last four stops in The Swamp). With this year’s Gator team having a new offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper, a game-changing tight end in UVA transfer Jake McGee, and a stellar defensive unit returning, who knows what the scoreboards will say at the end of the game? As they say down in Louisiana, “Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll)!”