ATHENS – Overheard a funny conversation between two Georgia fans the other day. They were debating which team they hoped to see represent the East in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3 in Atlanta, Florida or Tennessee
“I can’t decide which one I want to see get humiliated by Alabama,” one guy told the other.
Well, they’ll get an answer this Saturday. If Florida (7-2, 5-2 SEC) beats LSU in Baton Rouge (noon, SEC Network), the Gators are back in the title game for the second straight year. If they don’t, then Tennessee (7-3, 3-3) is expected to represent, provided it can get by Missouri this Saturday and Vanderbilt next.
But it’s there for the Gators’ taking if they can grab it. In fact, Florida already gets to add an SEC East championship trophy to its display in Gainesville. The Gators are assured a tie for first at worst, and they give trophies for that. But Tennessee gets the tiebreaker to Atlanta based on its Sept. 24th win over Florida in Knoxville.
Not many folks are expecting the Gators to get that return trip. And that’s a decidedly different picture than was being projected last month.
Five weeks ago this Saturday, LSU and Florida were supposed to play a football game in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators were early 2.5 to 3-point favorites over their visitors. But the Tigers never visited, as you may recall.
Hurricane Matthew caused Florida to (panic and) cancel the game. Then, one of the craziest deliberations I’ve ever witnessed in the SEC ensued and, somehow, they decided to play that game this weekend in Baton Rouge, La. Basically since it couldn’t play it then, LSU refused to play it anywhere but at home and, well, Florida caved.
Along with the location, the line on the game has changed as well. At last check Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers are now 13.5-point favorites. So there has been a 15-point swing since that contest was originally scheduled to play. There are some reasons for that beyond the 600-mile change in venue.
You can start with Florida’s injury situation. The Gators (7-2, 5-2 SEC) will be playing Saturday without at least seven starters on Saturday. That number could increase to nine, depending on the availability of defensive end Cece Jefferson (foot) and center Tyler Jordan (ankle). Both are considered questionable.
Meanwhile, LSU’s star tailback Leonard Fournette was likely going to miss the originally-scheduled Florida game on Oct. 6. He’s good to go this time and has had 382 yards in the last two games.
The interesting side story to this whole thing is there remains a contingent of LSU fans who believe Florida was ducking this game when it refused to play it five weeks ago. And they continue to look for extra motivation wherever they can find it.
Apparently a Florida fan brought a fake cat skeleton — draped in purple-and-gold Mardi Gras beads — to the Missouri game the week after they were supposed to play LSU. Some Gators’ players spotted it and brought it onto their sideline. It just so happens LSU’s mascot Mike The Tiger died earlier that week. Despite the Gators’ claims it had nothing to do with the death of Mike, some of the Tigers’ faithful took this as a sign of disrespect.
Oh, well, both sides should be supremely motivated. I suspect we’ll see a few alligator skeleton’s in Death Valley this Saturday. And I expect to see Tennessee in Atlanta three weeks hence.