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.”