Gators heat up LSU rivalry by scheduling the Tigers for homecoming

LSU running back Derrius Guice (5) carries near the goal line as he is tackled by Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (left) during last year’s game in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Florida Gators have designated their Oct. 7 game against LSU at The Swamp as homecoming.


Of course they did.

Was it just scheduling? Or, as one sports website put it, were the Gators tweaking LSU once again in a rivalry that has heated up ever since last year’s controversy when the game in Gainesville was postponed because of the approach of Hurricane Matthew?

“Florida-LSUs latest rivalry trolling,” was the headline over the story on SB Nation shortly after the Gators announced on Thursday that their 94th Homecoming game would be against the Tigers, at The Swamp.

After Florida announced on its football Twitter account on Thursday that LSU would be the homecoming opponent, it only took a few minutes for fans to start what should be a three-month war of words.

“Can [the UF baseball team] have their championship ring ceremony at halftime? It’d be pretty fitting,” said one Gator fan, noting that Florida won the College World Series last week by beating LSU two games to none in the championship series.

“Thought teams usually wanted to win their homecoming game? Oh well! Geaux Tigers!” posted an LSU fan.

And in reference to UF postponing last year’s game, another LSU fan posted: “What is the plan in case of a heavy drizzle?”

Florida officials offered no explanation other than a four-paragraph news release. However, the final paragraph took note: “Florida clinched its second straight SEC Eastern Division title at LSU in 2016.”

Schools historically attempt to schedule homecoming opponents perceived as easy pickings.

Florida has won 25 of its last 28 homecoming games, with teams such as Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Kentucky, Northern Illinois, Akron and Louisiana-Monroe the opponents. LSU has won its last 16 homecoming games, against opponents such as Troy, Western Kentucky and Furman.

The two schools’ all-time homecoming records are similar: Florida is 67-24-2 (.728) and LSU is 63-24-3 (.717).

The flip side is that teams get defensive over being “homecoming fodder.” As a result, UF’s decision just turned up the burner on its rivalry with LSU.

The two schools engaged in a contentious battle after the Gators postponed the Oct. 8, 2016 two days before Matthew was predicted to bring hurricane-force winds as far west as Gainesville.

LSU’s administration would have had to give up a non-conference home game to come back to Gainesville on the next available date (Nov. 19).

UF also had a non-conference home game scheduled, against Presbyterian, but said it would buy the school out of its contract to play the Tigers in Gainesville.

LSU refused and charges flew that Florida was too hasty to postpone the game, too stubborn to play on Sunday or Monday and in the end was ducking the Tigers.

The storm took an unexpected jog to the east and game day was sunny and dry. But many Alachua County and Gainesville law enforcement and first responders went to other parts of the state to help when Matthew spared central Florida the brunt of its force and couldn’t have returned to the city in time to provide the necessary logistical support for 90,000 fans on a Sunday or Monday game.

The compromise ordered by the SEC was that Florida play at LSU six weeks later, but will be the home team against the Tigers the next two seasons.

That game was bitter from the beginning, with a pregame brawl signaling the hard feelings. Florida won 16-10, stopping LSU on a dramatic goal-line stand in the final seconds to turn a raucous Death Valley silent in seconds.

“It just shocks me that someone would question the Gators,” UF coach Jim McElwain said after the game. “The way I look at it [the Tigers] got what they deserve.”