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Florida vs. LSU has become SEC's can't-miss game

10/9/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

This is a game that stands on its own.

Florida and LSU are two of the most talented teams in the country, two of college football's premier programs and the owners of the last two BCS national championship trophies.

It's a matchup that really didn't need any extra spice, although LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois made sure of it with his comments that he was going take Tim Tebow out of the game if he got a clean shot.

Jean-Francois says his comments were misinterpreted. Try telling that to the Swamp crazies on Saturday night and to the big guys up front responsible for protecting the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

Let's face it. If the game is half as entertaining as the one a year ago on the Bayou, we're all in for a treat.

Florida vs. Georgia might be the most anticipated game this season in the SEC, and Alabama vs. LSU has all the juicy storylines.

But the best game, the game that makes even the fans feel sore afterward because of all the thunderous hits and causes neck cramps from watching all the premium playmakers blaze up and down the field?

That game is Florida vs. LSU.

"It's one of those games as a spectator that you don't miss," LSU senior defensive tackle Tyson Jackson said. "And as a player, it's one of those games where the next day you feel like you've been in two or three fights."

Both teams could take big steps toward division crowns with a win. Both teams would probably be on the outside looking in with a loss.

LSU (4-0, 2-0 SEC) still has to play at South Carolina and gets Georgia and Alabama at home in the next month. Florida (5-0, 2-1 SEC) gets a bye next week before facing Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina in order.

"We can't afford any more slip-ups, especially at home," Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks said. "This is the only game that matters."

The Florida defensive players haven't needed to be reminded this week of how they were mauled a year ago by an LSU running game that netted 246 yards. The Tigers converted on five straight fourth-down conversions to come back and win 28-24 in the kind of physical, head-jarring game that defines the SEC.

But a year ago, LSU was the more physical team, and the Gators have been treated to constant video from that game all over the football complex this week.

The Tigers' game-winning drive lasted 15 bruising plays, with Jacob Hester twice converting on fourth-and-1. His short touchdown plunge won it for LSU with 1:09 to play after Florida had led the whole way up until that point.

"It's one of the most exciting football games I've ever been a part of," said LSU middle linebacker Darry Beckwith, who's returning this week after missing the last two games with a knee injury.

The other intriguing subplot in this game centers around the coaches. Florida's Urban Meyer has the national persona of being the hot commodity, while LSU's Les Miles has been tagged as the guy who says goofy things, takes all sorts of chances and is living off an endless supply of talent stocked by his predecessor.

Granted, Miles does give strange answers to questions sometimes, and he's gambled and won at LSU more than he's gambled and lost. But a quick check of LSU's roster reveals that most of the Nick Saban recruits are gone.

These are Miles' players, and it's unquestionably his team. He also more than holds his own with Meyer in just about every category. Miles has a better SEC record, a better record against nationally ranked teams, more Top 10 finishes and fewer losses to unranked teams.

And as several LSU fans rightly pointed out earlier this season, if you're going to point out that Miles won his national championship last season with a bunch of Saban recruits leading the way, isn't it only fair to note that Meyer did the same thing in 2006 with a bunch of Ron Zook recruits playing key roles?

Saturday night at the Swamp can't get here soon enough.