When college football fans across the country think of storied rivalries, they probably don’t think of one that’s been simmering like a pot of gumbo on a cool, crisp October evening.
There’s Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Texas, USC-Notre Dame.
One that doesn’t seem to fit is LSU and Florida, who have been trading barbs and wins on the football field since the Southeastern Conference made them permanent cross-division foes when the league expanded in 1992.
Like a spicy gumbo, all the ingredients are there for two schools that have won multiple national championships in the past 16 seasons — topped by a huge helping of vitriol from both sides that has escalated the animosity in recent years.
If it’s not Tim Tebow dialing an imaginary phone in front of a rowdy LSU student section, it’s a back-and-forth among players on Twitter about which school is the real DBU.
If it’s not a dustup at midfield before a game, it’s one team posting a video of the winning postgame locker room.
If it’s not a dispute over postponing and rescheduling of a game, it’s something up in the stands.
“It’s just bad blood colliding,” LSU outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson said Monday.
Of course, much of it stems from Florida postponing the 2016 game in Gainesville because of Hurricane Matthew.
It was anything but a simple postponement, however, as both schools battled over the situation before the game was finally played in Baton Rouge six weeks later — a decision that didn’t go over well with LSU fans.
But those just scratch the surface of this close rivalry, which has seen both teams ranked in the AP poll in 13 of their past 15 meetings. LSU has won seven of those matchups, Florida six.
So, in advance of Saturday night’s Tiger Stadium matchup of unbeatens with College Football Playoff aspirations, No. 7 Florida and No. 5 LSU, it was easy to tell Monday that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary game week.
‘We always hated the Florida Gators’
For Patrick Queen, it started back in 2007.
As an 8-year-old in the small town of Ventress, Queen was playing with toy trucks — still a decade away from joining the LSU football program — when he decided that he didn’t like a certain SEC institution very much.
The team that made him see red? It wasn’t the Alabama Crimson Tide, LSU’s nemesis for most of this decade; it was the team that wore blue and orange, the Florida Gators.
“Yeah, man, I hate them,” Queen, a junior inside linebacker, said when asked if it’s a rivalry like some others around the country.
“It’s just a Louisiana thing,” he said. “I’m from Louisiana and we always hated the Florida Gators. That’s basically it … even when I was a little kid.”
Queen said he specifically remembered Tebow when the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback gave something back to LSU students in the North end zone after a touchdown pass in their epic 2007 matchup.
The students had bombarded Tebow with calls and text messages after getting his number earlier in the week, so he held up an imaginary phone as if to say, “Call me.” But Florida’s early 10-0 lead evaporated and LSU won 28-24 on its way to the national title.
“That’s when I first realized about Tebow,” Queen said. “Then, I saw everybody in my neighborhood going against Florida.”
New blood to the rivalry
Being a native of Ohio, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has had limited experience in the rivalry, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t heard enough about it.
Coming south after three seasons at Ohio State, he played in The Swamp last October and was intercepted twice and sacked five times in the Tigers’ 27-19 loss — their first of the season after five wins.
When asked how evident the rivalry was to him in that one outing, he didn’t hesitate.
“Everyone says that LSU has a lot of different rivals,” Burrow said. “We have a trophy with Arkansas, Florida is a rival, Ole Miss is supposedly a rival, Alabama. But I think this is the biggest one.
“I don’t like them very much … I know they don’t like us very much,” he said. “That’s kind of been the talk around here, but you’re just going to have to keep your emotions in check in a game like this.”
When pressed for a particular reason for not liking Florida, Burrow said, “They beat us pretty good last year.”
Duck and cover
Other LSU players have had interesting experiences in Gainesville, where the Tigers have had to go the past two seasons because of the rescheduling of the 2016 contest.
“I remember getting a lot of water bottles thrown at us, maybe even urine bottles, too,” punter Zach Von Rosenberg said. “They were pretty ruthless in the student section. They’re the worst student section in college football, there’s no doubt about it.”
He noted that long snapper Blake Ferguson was struck by one of the bottles.
“We were right in front of their student section,” Ferguson said. “But I like playing against Florida. It’s fun. We don’t like them … they don’t like us. It’s what you come to LSU for, a game like this.”
Expect a “chippy” game Saturday
Junior safety JaCoby Stevens, then a high school senior in Nashville, Tennessee, said he remembers the 2016 game for a mild skirmish that broke out near midfield about 90 minutes before kickoff of a game won by Florida 16-10.
“I think that’s kind of what re-struck the rivalry,” Stevens said Monday. “Florida and LSU is a huge rivalry, and it’s going to be a very chippy game come Saturday.”
During his weekly news conference Monday, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said he was going to talk to his players to try and keep his players even-keeled for what, if form holds, will be an intense, 60-minute battle.
“Several years back, we had a tussle before the game … I don’t want that,” he said. “That distracts from the football team, that distracts from the task at hand. We’re going to make sure that our guys understand that.
“For some reason this is a heated battle, emotions are flying high; we want to use those emotions in the right way. I don’t think there’s anything I can say today or this week, or anything our players can say today or this week that will make us win the game besides work hard, keep our mouth shut and be ready to play Saturday night.”