An act of God. A home game moved away. A perceived homecoming slight.
All have played into the wild and at times contentious Florida-LSU football rivalry in the span of 12 months. Perhaps it would be fitting for UF’s band to play Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” at some point during Saturday afternoon’s homecoming game between the Gators and Tigers. Because while players and coaches are downplaying the events since the fall of 2016, there remains some lingering scores to settle between both fanbases.
Consider at this point last year, when the threat of Hurricane Matthew forced Florida to postpone its annual matchup with LSU at The Swamp. What followed was a week of heated negotiations between outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and LSU athletic director Joe Alleva. With the SEC office stepping in, the game was eventually moved to Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge, with Foley claiming at the time LSU was never a “true partner” in discussions.
It all worked out. Florida won at LSU 16-10 on a dramatic goal-line stand to clinch its second straight SEC East division title. The Gators will play LSU at home in each of the next two seasons. With the home date with LSU this season, Florida is in the midst of a rare three-game homestand against conference teams.
“There’s no place like playing LSU at their home, after the hurricane and stuff like that,” Florida sophomore linebacker David Reese said. “It meant a lot to win that game, and it’s going to mean a lot to win this game in The Swamp this year.”
To Florida coach Jim McElwain, the events of last season feel long ago.
“People make a lot more of it than it was,” McElwain said. “I think, you know, there’s a lot of things going on out there. I think this is, again, just historically, these two teams, the fact they’re playing every year, is something both teams look forward to.”
Karma in all sports has shifted to Florida since the rescheduled hurricane game. Last January, Florida beat LSU in basketball by 25 points. Then, last June, Florida knocked off LSU in the final series of the College World Series to claim its first baseball national title in school history. Former Florida pitcher and CWS MVP Alex Faedo (who didn’t pitch in the final series, by the way) will serve as the honorary Mr. Two Bits before the game.
Over the summer, Florida announced LSU would be its homecoming game this season, creating another stir between the two schools. It made for fodder at SEC Football Media Days and on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum show. In his monthly letter to Gator fans released online this week, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin re-iterated that it’s UF’s Faculty Senate, not the athletic department, that takes into account scheduling the homecoming date. Stricklin also pointed out the Gators have hosted an SEC team for homecoming in 20 of the past 21 seasons.
“I still laugh about that,” McElwain said. “I found out about it when I was getting off the plane from Montana. But, I think it’s been pointed out, we play SEC teams here every year for homecoming. What really creates the buzz, I guess, is whatever’s good. I’ve always kind of … I’m not even sure our team knows it’s homecoming because you just focus on the game.”
Florida is entering the matchup with LSU with momentum, having won three straight SEC games since a season-opening loss Michigan. LSU, meanwhile, is coming off its own homecoming loss, falling 24-21 to Troy in a game in which star tailback Derrius Guice sat out with a knee injury.
With Guice expected back this week, Florida is not about to take LSU lightly.
“We can’t take anybody for granted — nobody, no one this whole year we can,” Reese said. “We’re just excited because it’s the next game.”
Who: LSU (3-2, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (3-1, 3-0)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850