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Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers Preview: This One Matters More Than You Might Think

There's a reason why this game is regularly one of the highest-profile regular-season contests in the country. This year, there are just a few more reasons for that to be true

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Les Miles is fond of citing this game as one of the reasons that LSU has a harder time winning the SEC West, at least right now, than a team like Alabama. After all, Alabama doesn't have to go through Florida every year to get to the SEC Championship Game; the Tide's permanent rival is Tennessee, which has not exactly been having the best of decades lately.

But take a step back from the rhetoric, and there's a reason to think that LSU and Florida have as much to gain by playing this game as they do by losing it: Six of the last seven years, the team that has won this game has gone on to play in a BCS bowl, and four of those times, the winner has played for the national title. It's hard to draw a direct line from winning the LSU-Florida game to playing in a BCS game in January, but it's also pretty hard to shrug off that kind of correlation as coincidence.

So even if LSU didn't feature one of the strongest offenses in program history and even if Florida wasn't being quarterbacked by a two-star backup who has so far outshone the starter, this would still be a game worth paying attention to. But of course, both of those things are true, which means that we should expect a game that is both interesting to watch and significant in the national title conversation, particularly because Florida's championship hopes are already dimming and LSU can't afford another loss if it's going to play for the crystal football.

And both of those things being true seems to also point out what could very well decide this game: Quarterback play. For the first time in a while, that's something that shouldn't strike terror into the hearts of LSU fans.

Anybody who's spent any time reading this site knows that I'm a fan of using passing efficiency -- the official once, not ESPN's made up and opaque formula -- to measure quarterback performance. It's not a perfect formula, by any means, but it's one of the best ways to compare passing games that are often asked to do very different things.

By that measure, Zach Mettenberger has been a revelation this year. His passer efficiency rating has soared, from 128.34 in 2012 to 190.12 this season -- a jump of more than 60 points, which is phenomenal. Mettenberger has had only one game that's even mediocre by efficiency standards -- against TCU, the first game of the year -- and has otherwise looked spectacular. Having Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry catching passes for him doesn't hurt.

As for Florida, let's not forget that Tyler Murphy's season as the main quarterback has so far consisted of playing teams that are flawed, and often deeply so. Arkansas -- a marginal bowl team -- remains the most difficult opponent he's faced. Murphy has yet to lead his team against an opponent with a decent defense and an offense that can put up enough points to make Murphy and Co. win the game. LSU has a decent defense -- even if it's not up to the Tigers' usual standards -- and are certainly good enough on offense to outscore Florida if necessary.

That's why, even though there are plenty of valid reasons to pick Florida, I just can't get there. It's not that I'm certain that Murphy can't lead his team to victory in a shootout against LSU, it's just that I don't have enough evidence to make me confident that he can. But if Murphy and his teammates can pull it off, watch out; history tells us there could be even greater things ahead for whichever team wins this one.

LSU 28, Florida 24