Ten Games That Will Shape the SEC: No. 5 -- Florida at LSU

The Game: Florida Gators at LSU Tigers, Oct. 10

What's at Stake: Florida's chances at an undefeated season could very well be determined by this game. With neither of the other contenders from the SEC West set to face Florida before the conference title showdown in December, the Gators' most serious two threats have to be Georgia and LSU. As a practical matter, Florida's national and league championship hopes remain alive and well if they lose this game; it's hard to see a one-loss SEC team shut out of the BCS title game assuming there's only one undefeated team from the Big XII, Pac-10, Big Ten, ACC and maybe the Big East. If Florida only loses this game and defeats Georgia three weeks later, it still goes to Atlanta with a chance to secure a national title berth. Still, why tempt fate? And let's not kid ourselves -- Tim Tebow didn't just come back for another chance to win it all; he came back to win 14 in a row in a single season. For LSU, it's essential to at least split this game and the Georgia tilt; two losses is likely at least one too many to prevail in the SEC West.

Where It Falls on Florida's Schedule: After a bye that should give the Gators a chance to reflect on an easily won 4-0 record. Florida should have few problems with Charleston Southern, Troy, Tennessee and at Kentucky. This is the game that starts the slightly tougher portion of the schedule. The following week, Arkansas comes to Gainesville. Florida then makes the always treacherous trick to Starkville before facing Georgia, Vanderbilt and at South Carolina to close out the SEC slate. Florida International and Florida State then remain the only obstacles to a 12-0 regular season.

Where It Falls on LSU's Schedule: Just a week after the faceoff with the Dawgs in Athens; LSU gets a rest before it plays four of its five West Division foes and a pair of in-state mid-majors.

What Happened This Past Season: The first of the LSU defense's 50-point debacles as Florida rung up 475 yards of total offense, including 14.0 ypc on the ground, and limited the LSU rushing attack to just 3.1 ypc en route to a 51-21 victory. When the CBS broadcasters noted that Urban Meyer wanted Florida to become the fastest team in the nation, it was easy to think they already were.

What Will Decide the Game This Year: John Chavis' ability to stop Tim Tebow. The new LSU defensive coordinator has never defeated a Gator team with Tebow on it but has had mixed results in attempting to stop the QB. Tebow was 14-of-19 for 299 yards, 2 TDs and an interception in 2007, when the Gators annihilated Tennessee 59-20 in the Swamp; he tacked on 67 yards and 2 TDs on 18 rushing attempts. Last year, in a 30-6 Tennessee loss in which the Vols outgained Florida, Tebow was held to 8-of-15 passing for 96 yards and 2 TDs and just 26 yards and no scores on 12 carries. (Tebow wasn't much of a factor in 2006, rushing seven times for 29 yards.) Chavis' defenses have recorded one sack against Tebow.

Florida Will Probably Win If ... They're as good as we think they are and stay relatively injury- and hubris-free. The schedule to this point isn't grueling and the Gators should be able to focus on LSU.

LSU Will Probably Win If ... Chavis can replicate his blueprint from last year and LSU can find more offense than the Clawfense did. That won't be as easy as it sounds against the Florida defense this year, but it's doable. By this point, Jordan Jefferson and Co. should be comfortable with playing in the SEC; if they're as good as advertised, the Tigers could make this a game.

Conclusion: Florida has to be favored in every game they play this year, and the skeptic in me still wonders just how good LSU is. Unless LSU is national championship-caliber this year, the best they can hope for is to keep things interesting. Florida wins a close one.

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PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
No. 6 -- LSU at Georgia
No. 7 -- South Carolina at Georgia
No. 8 -- Tennessee at Florida
No. 9 -- Auburn at Tennesee
No. 10 -- Kentucky at Vanderbilt

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