Know Your Foe: Florida-LSU

This is part four in an ongoing series about Florida's rivalries. So far, we've covered Georgia, FSU, and Tennessee.

 

Florida has faced off against LSU more than any other opponent except Georgia, Auburn or Kentucky. The two teams have faced off every year except three (1968-70) since 1953. It is also one of the Gators most even rivalries, with Florida holding a six-game advantage, 14-11-3 at home and 16-13 in Baton Rouge. For three straight years, the winner of this game would go on to win the national championship.

LSU opened its doors in Pineville, Louisiana in 1860 as a seminary and military school under the command of Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman would leave LSU after a year to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, but at the war's end he donated two Confederate Cannons that fired on Fort Sumter to the university. The school relocated to Baton Rouge in 1870 following a fire that destroyed the Pineville campus. LSU would move again in the 1920s from downtown Baton Rouge to a new campus in the Italian Renaissance style just south of downtown. Louisiana Governor Huey Long financed many capital improvements to the campus by orchestrating the sale of the old downtown campus to the state. Academically, LSU ranks 124th by US News and World Report, and features excellent programs in French and landscape architecture.

Tiger Stadium is one of the the most hostile environments for a visiting team in college football. Particularly at night. (At one point in the late 90s LSU students circulated a petition asking the university to not schedule any games before 6:00 pm. This petition also repeatedly referenced Florida coach Steve Spurrier as "Visor Boy.") Mike, their live tiger mascot, also has a reputation as one of the more vicious live mascots.

This rivalry didn't really heat up until recently, but three straight years in the last five, the winner of the game went on to win a national championship. October 6, 2007, after a week of prank calling Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the Tigers went 5 for 5 on fourth down (although Gator fans and video replay may dispute the last one) en route to a national championship. Two years earlier, they made Urban Meyer cry in his first year as Florida's coach. Of course there is also the 1997 game, where the Gators, coming off a national championship, took a number one ranking into Death Valley. Having defeated their first five opponents by an average of 36 points, and bludgeoning LSU the previous year 56-13, the Gators saw the game slip away with a late interception by Doug Johnson that set the Bayou Bengals up for a fourth quarter touchdown that put them up 28-14.

LSU has more reason to be antagonistic towards Florida, and the roots can be traced back to the 1965 game in Gainesville, where they accused the Gators of stealing the wrist band of quarterback Jimmy Field. LSU led 7-0 after the first quarter, when the Field ended up under a pile, and left it without his play-calling wristband. Florida went on to win 14-7, and held LSU to less than 100 yards passing in the second half. During the Spurrier era, the Tigers managed only the above-mentioned win. Even while they had more success against Ron Zook, his inexplicable win in Baton Rouge cost LSU half a national championship. For two decades, LSU was a "gimme" on the Gators' schedule, and that would put a bad taste in anybody's mouth.

When the SEC split into divisions, each team was allowed two cross-division rivals. Florida chose Auburn (who we'll cover later) and LSU. The two schools have a long, if quiet, history together, going back to the 1950s. While LSU held an edge in the series until 1992, the Gators 13-1 record against the Tigers from 1988 to 2001 has given Florida the series lead. Overall, the series has been remarkably even. In this rivalry there is no home field advantage.

While LSU resides in the SEC West, they remain an annual rival for the Gators. Even though Florida can afford a loss to a Western Division opponent, no team has won the SEC with a losing record against the opposite division. The Florida-LSU rivalry may be a quiet rivalry, because both schools have more heated rivalries, but there is no question that two elite football teams, with notoriously hostile home stadiums, playing in the toughest football conference always makes for a compelling game.

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