"LOOK! OVER THERE! THAT'S WHAT YOU HAVE TO LOSE! YES, I AM POINTING AT NOTHING! THAT IS THE POINT!"
I'll be honest: I think Florida's going to lose to LSU on Saturday.
I have LSU No. 1 in my BlogPoll ballot for a reason: These Tigers have talent everywhere, a defense that is the envy of every other team in college football, and an overwhelming home field advantage. And that would be imposing enough for me to pick LSU if Alabama were coming to town, much less a Florida team that spent last Saturday learning cold truths.
Against Alabama, the Gators' running game was short-circuited, their defensive line was gutted, and their starting quarterback was lost to injury, leaving Florida with either a largely ineffective freshman (Jeff Driskel) or a completely green freshman (Jacoby Brissett) starting at quarterback for a trip to the zoo that the No. 1 team in the country calls home.
That's not the situation that Florida wanted to be in when heading to Baton Rouge this year. But there is a silver lining for the Gators: They have nothing to lose.
Will Muschamp can and will play the "Nobody believes in us!" card, because that's what the coach of a team that is a double-digit underdog on the road does. But Muschamp's no dummy, and likely knows that his team can win the SEC East without a win at LSU. In fact, the Gators all but control their own destiny in the SEC East whether or not they win at LSU.
Florida would fall to 2-2 in the SEC with a loss this weekend, but could win out and beat every remaining one-loss SEC East team except Tennessee on the rest of its schedule. And the Vols have games left against LSU and at Alabama and Arkansas; certainly, Tennessee running the table from this point on, which would include wins over three top-10 teams, is less plausible than Florida running the less strenuous second half of its SEC schedule.
So the Gators have the knowledge that this win could make them the overwhelming SEC East favorites, while a loss might not ultimately do anything to their chances at a division crown. And the Gators know that having Driskel or Brissett at quarterback instead of John Brantley — still seemingly likely to play again for Florida in 2011 — means that Charlie Weis can empty an entirely different kitchen sink for the purposes of this game. Counting on Driskel and/or Brissett to flash their superior mobility and strong arms might give the Florida offense a better puncher's chance than it has with Brantley's more steady and unspectacular play.
And Florida's defense, so good against the Alabama passing game even in defeat, has to know that it can take risks against an LSU team that isn't as good at power running as Alabama and has two quarterbacks known to be turnover-prone. Jarrett Lee's improved since his interception-filled early days as an LSU quarterback, but he doesn't scare a defense; Jordan Jefferson might, but he's got rust and confidence issues. Why shouldn't Muschamp and Dan Quinn dial up blitzes and see if sacks and turnovers result?
If Florida is going to win against LSU on Saturday, it's likely going to take the sorts of gambles that make big plays and turnovers happen: flea-flickers, reverses, deep passes, unexpected uses of the option, scrambles, blitzes, freak fumbles, and the like. But those gambles could be the bread and butter of a Florida team with nothing to lose.