It’s tough to choose between the SEC‘s two big college football games this weekend. For me, it has to be the top-ten showdown that has the Florida Gators hosting the LSU Tigers. Both teams come into Saturday’s game looking not just for a win, but a symbolic win. For the Tigers, it will be their chance to silence an increasing number of critics. For the Gators, it will be a chance to solidify the notion that they are back as a force in the conference.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Gators can upset the Tigers. The fact that they’re both in the top-ten of the rankings has nothing to do with it either. What it has to do with is a perfect storm approaching Gainesville, Florida. The storm is comprised of equal parts performance, circumstance, and location.
The Gators have demonstrated through this portion of the season that they have what it takes on both sides of the football to hang with the Tigers. Their offense has shown that a good defense can keep it in check (see the Gators’ slim win over the Texas A&M Aggies). On the flipside, the Gators have also shown that their offense performs better in the second half, as was the case against the Aggies, against the Tennessee Volunteeers last month, and to start the season against the Bowling Green Falcons.
It’s a balanced attack on offense for the Gators that is lead by Mike Gillislee‘s running and quarterback Jeff Driskel‘s leadership. The Gators might be served better if Driskel can run the offense to perfection, even if that means he turns in an average performance.
The fact that the Gators are playing at home makes it all the more intriguing. If it were in Baton Rouge, there wouldn’t be much of an upset feeling. But if you are team facing a highly-ranked team (especially in the top five) and you’re at home, you are at an advantage. More than the pro level, home field advantage can have its own kind of effect on the momentum of a game, mainly if it’s going in the favor of a home team looking for an upset.
There are a few examples in this rivalry that prove that this is possible. Such examples include 1997 when the Tigers upset the top-ranked Gators in Baton Rouge, and even the Tigers’ triumph in 2007 (even though they were the top-ranked team in that game) could qualify because it was a game that the Tigers had to win to prove (like the Gators this Saturday) that they were for real in the SEC.
One other thing the Gators have going for them is the combination of all that I already mentioned and the Tigers being notorious so far this season for starting slow. If the Tigers start slow and the Gators are able to take advantage, the Tigers will not only dig themselves into a hole, but they may end up too flustered to get themselves out.
The Tigers have played some poor first halves of football already this year and if they wind up down at half, not only are they going to have to play that much better to come back and win the game, but they’ll have to do it against a team that, like the Tigers, gets better in the second half. And they’ll have to do it while facing the real possibility of losing for the first time this season. The Gators have already had to deal with a few games that were up in the air until late, and haven’t come out with a loss.
It will be the Tigers’ toughest test of the season to be sure. But one team’s test is another team’s opportunity, and the Gators have a chance to be a part of the SEC’s attempt to prolong its dominance. And they can do it with a win on Saturday.