Friday, October 9, 2009

Best New Rivalry in College Football?

I know, this isn't supposed to be an SEC blog. It just seems that way lately.

But hey, the SEC happened to produce the last three BCS title winners. And they just happen to be playing against each other this Saturday. So what do you want me to do, ignore the news?

The reason that Florida and LSU are becoming college football's best new rivalry is excellence. Both programs have made quantum leaps in the dawn of the 21st century, becoming the only two schools with multiple BCS titles.

This is how they fared against each other in the post-Steve Spurrier era:

2008 - @Florida 51, LSU 21
2007 - @LSU 28, Florida 24
2006 - @Florida 23, LSU 10
2005 - @LSU 21, Florida 17
2004 - LSU 24, @Florida 21
2003 - Florida 19, @LSU 7
2002 - LSU 36, @Florida 7

The Ol' Ball Coach ended his Gator career by walloping LSU in four straight games (aggregate score, 138-44). But since his departure, the series has become much more competitive. The road team won the first three meetings and then the home team has taken the last four.

In 2003, the Ron Zook Gators handed the Nick Saban Tigers their only loss of the season, which kept them from winning the AP national title. In 2007, the Les Miles Tigers delivered the Urban Meyer Gators their second straight loss, ending their hopes of winning consecutive national championships. In 2006 and '08, Florida romped in the Swamp en route to BCS titles.

The Florida-LSU rivalry, by SEC standards, is pretty tame. It's getting a bit more heated after LSU fans got a hold of the cell phone numbers of several Florida coaches and players and began transmitting voicemail and text messages. That happened two years ago, too, when Tim Tebow's number got around Baton Rouge. Tebow responded by pretending to answer the phone after a touchdown (and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty). The ploy worked: LSU beat Florida in Tiger Stadium.

This time around, LSU will need a little more help than "Geaux Tigers" and "Guck Fators" on its side. Even if Tebow doesn't play, the Gators will still be favored in Death Valley. Despite being ranked by every BCS computer as the top team, the Tigers know better - they gutted out two wins, with a little help from the officials both times, the last two weeks against Mississippi State and Georgia.

The Gators, meanwhile, cannot afford to lose this game. With a desultory schedule remaining (Florida plays just one more ranked team, No. 25 South Carolina, the rest of the regular season), they may be out of the running for the BCS title with just one loss, even if that comes with Tebow on the sidelines. On the other hand, a victory here should slingshot Florida straight into the SEC title game.

★★★★★ GAME OF THE WEEK: Florida at LSU, 8 p.m. ET. It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium. Oh yeah? Check back Saturday night and see if that's true. There's a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms at game time. A torrential downpour may be just what the Tigers needed to slow down the Florida machine.

★★★★ FOUR-STAR GAME: Alabama at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m. ET. On the SEC undercard, the Crimson Tide will face an Ole Miss team desperate to reclaim its reputation. Absurdly ranked at No. 4 earlier in the season, the Rebels' ranking went into a freefall after losing to South Carolina. Beating Alabama at home will at least help to justify some of that preseason hype.

★★★ THREE-STAR GAME: Wisconsin at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ET. (See, this is not an SEC blog!) The Badgers are off to another roaring start - this marks the sixth straight season that they've won at least the first three games. And unlike the last four, where their first loss came on the first Big Ten road game, they actually beat Minnesota last week. But the Buckeyes are just a bit more fierce than the Gophers.

★★ TWO-STAR GAME: Michigan at Iowa, 8 p.m. ET. Michigan came within a whisker of making this a matchup of two 5-0 teams. But both teams, despite the lofty records, are shaky. The Wolverines won two games with late drives before finally running out of magic in overtime last week. Iowa squeaked by Northern Iowa (thanks to two blocked field goals in the final seconds) and Arkansas State to keep a clean slate.

★ ONE-STAR GAME: TCU at Air Force, 7:30 p.m. ET. The Horned Frogs went through their nonconference schedule unscathed. Now, if they want to keep alive their hopes of going to a BCS bowl, they must go through the Mountain West unbeaten as well. That slate begins with the always-difficult Air Force on the road.

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