The SEC may not have realized it at the time, but it did college football a favor when it made the Florida vs. LSU game an annual pairing. The two schools have met every year since 1971 and the Gators/Tigers matchup typically has a direct bearing on the SEC and national championships. While both teams have stumbled early, a win on Saturday would recharge either team's season.
Critics have argued that both schools have an unfair difficulty added to their schedule with this mandated meeting. However, every rivalry has its peaks and valleys and this one has produced some great games regardless of the state of either football program. Here are the five best.
5. Florida 13, LSU 10
Baton Rouge — Oct. 22, 1960
After winning the national title in 1958 and finishing in the top five in 1959, LSU began the season with a 1-3 record. Nevertheless, the Tigers were up to 10-7 at the half on a good Florida team thanks in part to the plays LSU quarterback Jimmy Field was calling from his wristband (This was the era when quarterbacks called their own games.). Florida countered this with an unorthodox approach. The Gators blitzed and piled on top of Field. When he emerged, his wristband was gone. Thanks to the invaluable intel, Florida shut LSU’s offense down in the second half completely and won 13-10. At the end of the game, a Florida coach returned the wristband to a referee, claiming it was found on the field.
4. LSU 28, Florida 21
Baton Rouge — Oct. 11, 1997
Florida entered Death Valley ranked No. 1 and sporting a nine-year win streak over LSU. But on this night, the Tigers used their powerful rushing attack led by Kevin Faulk and put tremendous pressure on Gator quarterback Doug Johnson to take a 14-7 halftime lead. Johnson started the second half with 53-yard pass to Fred Taylor, who capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, LSU pulled ahead for good in a span of a little more than 90 seconds. First, Tiger defensive back Cedric Donaldson intercepted Johnson’s pass and raced 31 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. Then Florida fumbled the ensuing kickoff and LSU capitalized with another score to take a 28-14 lead. Taylor scored another touchdown but that was all Florida could muster. The goalposts came down as Tiger fans celebrated the school’s first-ever defeat of a No. 1-ranked team.
3. LSU 33, Florida 29
Gainesville — Oct. 9, 2010
This game personifies blind luck. Undefeated LSU jumped out to a 26-14 fourth quarter lead but Florida’s Andre Debose took a kickoff 88 yards down the sideline to close the gap to 28-21. The Gators then completed a 51-yard pass from John Brantley to Carl Moore and used their rushing attack to pound into the end zone for a second score. Brantley then hit Frankie Hammond Jr., to add two points and make the score 29-26. LSU got the ball back on its own 38-yard line with a little more than three minutes left in the game. The Tigers then spent two and a half minutes moving the ball 26 yards. Facing a 4th-and-3 on Florida’s 36-yard line, LSU lined up to kick a 52-yard field goal. Instead, head coach Les Miles called a trick play and holder Derek Helton tossed the ball behind his head. The ball hit the ground and kicker Josh Jasper caught it off the bounce and ran five yards around the end for the first down. The Tigers scored four plays later and secured the 33-29 win. Gator fans were furious, but LSU’s faithful was bewildered by what had taken place as well.
2. Florida 16, LSU 13
Baton Rouge — Oct. 7, 1989
This game was jokingly referred to as college football’s first “overtime” game even though it took place before the NCAA established the overtime system. LSU took a 10-3 halftime lead and Florida responded in the third quarter with a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Gator running back Emmitt Smith broke free for a 19-yard touchdown run to put his team ahead 13-10. LSU tied the game with 1:19 left, giving Florida one final possession. The Gators got the ball on their own 20-yard line and then drove all the way to LSU’s 27. With 23 seconds left, Smith took the handoff and ran for three yards, but could not get out of bounds. With no timeouts left, the Gators raced to the line and quarterback Kyle Morris slung the ball out of bounds as time expired. Fireworks shot off in Tiger Stadium to celebrate the tie but the officials ruled that there was one second on the clock when the ball sailed out of bounds. Kicker Arden Czyyzewski squeaked a 41-yard field goal through the uprights and the Gators came away with a fair, but controversial victory.
1. LSU 28, Florida 24
Baton Rouge — Oct. 7, 2007
What makes this No. 1? A lot of reasons, but the biggest is LSU going 5-for-5 in fourth-down conversions. The Tigers were undefeated and ranked No. 1 when the defending national champion Gators came to Baton Rouge for a night game. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow put his team ahead 10-0 in the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown pass to Kestahn Moore. LSU responded with an 80-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown by backup quarterback Ryan Perilloux with the Tigers facing 4th-and-1. A few minutes later, Tebow ran nine yards into the end zone to give his team a 10-point halftime lead.
LSU got the ball on its own 30-yard line to start the second half and moved the ball down the field. Facing 4th-and-5 at Florida’s 25-yard line, LSU lined up to kick a field goal. Quarterback and holder Matt Flynn took the snap and darted around the right end for an eight-yard gain. Running back Keiland Williams punctuated the drive with a four-yard touchdown run. On the next drive, the Gators went 75 yards in five plays, with Tebow completing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Chad Ingram to put Florida up 24-14.
LSU began to take control early in the fourth quarter, when defensive end Kirston Pittman intercepted Tebow’s pass on Florida’s 27-yard line. LSU then converted another fourth down with Flynn hitting Demetrius Byrd for a four-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers then got the ball back with 9:20 left in the game and down 24-21. LSU put together a 15-play, 60-yard drive that chewed up more than eight minutes. Along the way, LSU converted a pair of fourth downs — on its own 49-yard line and one from Florida’s 7. Jacob Hester smashed into the end zone with 1:09 left to put his team ahead for good.
Tebow would go on that season to become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. LSU would play numerous exciting games en route to becoming the first national champion with two losses. None of those games matched this one in sheer drama from start to finish.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)