LSU-UF contest features programs exceeding expectations in 2018

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Florida coach Dan Mullen, left, talks with quarterback Feleipe Franks on the sideline during the first half Saturday against Charleston Southern. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The nine months following the 2017 season featured one of college football’s timeless traditions: analysts casting picks and predictions.

And every year, countless teams exceed and subvert those expectations, often making the analysts look ill-advised and ill-informed in the process.

There aren’t many teams right now bucking projections quite like LSU and Florida, who each enter Saturday’s match-up ranked inside the AP Top-25 poll.

For the Gators, 2018 was expected to be an improvement, but UF wasn’t expected to contend for an SEC championship or emerge as one of the nation’s best. And LSU’s 2018 campaign was supposed to be the final nail in the coffin for coach Ed Orgeron.

Instead, the programs take Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at 3:30 p.m. with a combined 9-1 record, as each program has captured statement wins over ranked opponents.

The stakes Saturday have only increased this season. No longer is pride the lone commodity at stake.

While awry predictions often turn into fuel for the fire, Mullen took a level-headed approach Monday while previewing the Tigers.

“I think it’s really hard in preseason to pick anything that’s going to happen, because you don’t — the margin for error is so small in this league. The difference in losing and winning a game is very, very small in this league, and it can be a play here or there in different games. You don’t know how injuries or how are guys going to respond or who’s going to come through,” Mullen said. “Everybody’s either going to get really excited about (predictions) or kind of have a chip on their shoulder, and every fan base gets kind of fired-up about the preseason rankings. I think it’s really hard to look at it and do with any level of consistency.”

For those in Florida’s locker room, the pessimistic preseason predictions have been internalized, digested and turned into fuel on the field.

It worked last weekend in Starkville, when Las Vegas line-makers and college football analysts nearly unanimously agreed the Gators stood no chance against the program Mullen spent nine years building.

“We had a chip on our shoulder, because we knew that we took what was theirs,” sophomore wide receiver Kadarius Toney said, “and they wanted (a win in return), but we weren’t going for it.”

Historically, the match-up with the Tigers hasn’t needed any prodding — it simply comes with the LSU-UF rivalry. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been ratcheted up — far from it, considering the rescheduling debacle surrounding the 2016 contest. That iteration still has ramifications today, considering UF traded a home game that season if the Tigers agreed to make consecutive trips to Gainesville.

Oh, and there’s the whole “which program is the real Defensive Back University” storyline, a debate which seems to find new ways to surface each season. Suffice to say, the LSU-UF rivalry is typically guaranteed to be wrought with chirping and jawing from both sides, and that’s before factoring in the perceived disrespect from the media and bet-makers.

On Saturday only one program can emerge victorious, earning bragging rights and outside validation in the process.

“It’s going to be a dogfight. This is a rivalry for DBU. It’s just a game that’s always been played with high intensity, so you’ve got to come out and give it your all because they’re going to give it their all,” UF junior running back Lamical Perine said. “Some of the new guys don’t really know how that (17-16 loss to LSU on Homecoming last year) felt. I can speak for the older guys and I can say, yeah it is kind of hurting a little bit. To lose by one point when you know you could have won the game.

“We’re just going to come out and have a better scheme this time. Hopefully we have a great game.”

14 COMMENTS

  1. “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
    -George Eliot.
    The Gators coulda’, shoulda’ beaten L.S.U. last year.
    So here’s hoping the fellas from Florida “leave no doubt” and spank the Tigers in “The Swamp.”

  2. gatori70x7 – Remember last year in that we should have lost to Kentucky, but we found a way to rip their heart out last year. This is the SEC and strange things have a habit of happening at the most austere times. Win or lose on Saturday, I just want to see our GATORS play like they did in the 4th quarter of last Saturday’s game. The defense was a monster and the offense didn’t give the game away. With our O-line leaving much to be desired, I wished that Coach Mullen would have Frank’s run the hurry up offense and get the ball out to our faster play makers. That would be a winning combination for sure in mho. GO GATORS!!!

    • Indeed, Ed. And I just know that players sometimes think, ”they’re ranked 5th, how good, really, are they, etc..” But I also know they can and should be saying, ”heck, we shoulda’ won last year!” So, here’s hoping!
      Because the Gators are on the right track, win or lose. And I have more confidence in this year’s team than last season’s team, and after only 5 games. Go Gators!

  3. A very well written and constructed article, I think one that captures the essence of this game. Tomorrow is Friday and of course then next it’s game day — everyone has pretty much made their thoughts known by now, doubt anyone will change their mind, so now is probably the best time to start pulling together and support our team. Many roads are said to have led to Rome…..as Ed sustained, strange things have a habit of happening in the SEC…..keep the faith!

  4. Pat, how much did it cost you beat guys to get Mullen to give you that out quote re: preseason rankings? When I heard that in his presser I knew I’d see it in print a few times. Has it been bronzed on the sports desk wall yet? “THE OUT” by Dan Mullen. LOL.

  5. Got a few problems with this article. While we are better than expected we are only 3 conference games in and 2-1 in that. Everyone here knows I have been on the high side of predictions but we have a long road a treacherous one at that to get to Atlanta. Can we? Yes, that is possible but the team has to get much better. They are improving week over week. As for being one of the nations best we have to beat the LSU’s, UGA’s, Mo’s this year and we can add that to the titles. One win at a time.
    Vegas was wrong on counting us out. I wish I would have put my money where my mouth was there. I have said all along we can win all of these games but don’t think we are there yet, though Mullen is building something special here.
    LSU has a history of beating us on trick plays. That is a hint to the defense and special teams. Keep the ball in front of you, stay with your man, watch for the deception.
    I hope they take the loss last year, the loss to KY and use that motivation but remain loose and stay with the fundamentals, routes and assignments and beat the crap out of the Bayou BUNGLES. Watching a few LSU games I saw some holes in their game a coach could exploit. May have been the competition they were playing but I am sure our coaches are on top of things. Biggest thing for DBU this weekend is to get the first INT on them this year.
    GO GATORS. 🐊🐊 CHOMP CHOMP

    • Well Im one who did put his money where his mouth was and cleaned up on MSU-UF. Having said that, I agree Mullen is building something special but I dont think this is our time yet. We could be a huge upset but alot of things would have to go our way! Like the defense and S.T. scoring because our offense wont score much against the best defense we have seen this year if mullen has to call plays like against MSU. Our defense and offense are both playing better than against UK. LSU has also continued to improve. Though Im sure LSU has this one, I will not be putting any money on the line because I only take, for sure games, that I find the line is backwards like the MSU game. That gives a wide margin of safety. I wouldnt bet against my team anyway!

      • daz – our team has the potential to win out, just like a few of the other SEC teams have. I will also tell you that I knew Kentucky was going to be hard to beat just by their returning players and their main RB. I even picked Ky. to win in my weekly college pick’em, and I have to tell everyone that I am at 100% after week 5 and I rank #608 out of thousands. This is the best year I have ever picked the teams. So I am picking the GATORS to win base solely on what I believe our defense is going to bring Saturday. Franks just needs to get the ball out quick and not to throw any INT’s. We could crush LSU with slants, shuffle passes, and the occasional wheel route. Get that ball into the hands of our fast guys asap and let them “do their thang.” GO GATORS!!!

  6. Win or lose, Coach Mullen has already greatly exceeded the great Mac Flop of last year. The Gators are fun to watch again. They play like they actually care, and their are actual plans, and attempts to win the game. We are in for some more losses, sure. But the trend is up, way up.
    Chomp ‘Em Gators!!

    Bonus question: What is inside the Seminole Turnover Backpack?

    Answer: The Last Bottle of McElwain’s BBQ Sauce

    • UF has almost twice as many returning starters as LSU. UF has 17 to 19 depending on how many starts you use to make the cut. LSU around 10. – In this case I don’t think it will be a significant factor in who wins the game, but that’s the answer to your question.

  7. There have been many one score games recently in this series. I hope we make one more play than the Tigers Saturday. This should easily be the most physical game we have played this season. Tackle, tackle, tackle…
    Work ‘em silly Gators!
    I’m feeling this game for us. Feels like something changed last weekend in Mississippi. Hope I’m right.

  8. I picked us to win our first five, so I’m 4-1, not bad.
    We might have beaten Kentucky also if Reese and Jefferson were healthy. (The real score was 21-18 before the last disputed call.) I really don’t think there is a team on our schedule that we can’t beat the way we are improving from week to week. Great job by the coaches!
    I also pick us to win vs. LSU 27-21. Relentless effort and improvements on the field will make it happen.
    Franks has a big day! No Brag , just Fact! Enjoy the game recruits and commit tomorrow.
    Go Gators!

  9. we are so excited about the gators, that we have critiqued our team so well, that no we are critiquing the articles the newspapers write! I love it. ANd we critique our other commenters. this, well, I don’t care because the commenters are fun, they remember players from the past, and plays, and you get to relive some great times. but of course, some of the critiques are technically correct. doesn’t mean much, but we all feel better.

    theres no point in criticizing the newspaper for not correctly predicting the quality of LSU or Florida (expectations are a form of prediction). predicitions tend to be wrong universally. big deal. someone got a prediction wrong! So, here goes my prediction. Florida beats LSU 10-9. sure that’s not logical. but its the 6th game, LSU is close, either this week or next one, to an underperformance. we had ours against Kentucky, so our ninth game is a risk of a letdown by this logic. of course that could happen in the eighth, or the tenth or the fifth. but letdowns are coming. whoever gets let down, please don’t shoot their coach. Life is like that, one out of 7 usually doesn’t go right, predictions are hard, and keep your bad days from turning into bad periods of time. that bad period after a bad gam, just kinda happened to us when we hired champ, but I’m truly convinced we are on the right path now.