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Early Shots Fired Between Florida-LSU

By Buddy Martin
SouthernPigskin.com
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We awakened Monday to discover the arrival of a summer sweet spot on our doorsteps and computer screens: SEC Media Days, sort of a soft opening for the 2017 college football season.

ON THE ROAD TO HOOVER – We awakened Monday to discover the arrival of a summer sweet spot on our doorsteps and computer screens: SEC Media Days, sort of a soft opening for the 2017 college football season.

The first wave of around 1,400 media types descended upon this suburb of Birmingham, Ala. — perhaps named after a vacuum cleaner company – at a place called the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel.

What we’re wishing for is spice and dice and maybe some not-so-nice banter among foes. What we’ll most likely get is high-grade pabulum, coached-up players and cautious coaches trying NOT to make the headline clickbait.

We love it anyway because Talkin’ Season is here. If you’re a big fan of Southern college football and you’re scoring at home, this is most likely your jam.

Maybe the genie is already out of the bottle: Florida vs. LSU has taken on added heat as a rivalry. The game has always been an annual crossover marquee football matchup.

Now, however, it’s a circle game despite not being an inner-division competition. Now it’s an overall athletic program grudge match.

Just to keep the fires stoked, new Florida Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin (with a probable wink from his predecessor Jeremy Foley) wasted no time in calling out his counterpart in Baton Rouge, sending a message to LSU AD Joe Alleva by circling the Tigers as Florida’s 2017 homecoming opponent.

So when Oct. 7 rolls around, the Tigers and Gators will be stoking the fires again – but inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Feathers have been ruffled, disrespect has been perceived and the winds of ill will are still blowing after last year’s game between LSU and Florida, scheduled for “The Swamp” on Oct. 8, was postponed by the looming arrival of Hurricane Matthew.

Things got so acrimonious between the two schools that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey eventually stepped in and negotiated a settlement. Both schools paid off their Nov. 19 non-conference home opponents and Florida agreed to travel to Baton Rouge on that date in exchange for playing home contests with LSU this season and next.

The ashes were further fanned when the underdog Gators locked down LSU running back Derrius Guice on fourth and goal at the Florida 1-yard line on the game’s final play to preserve a 16-10 Gators victory.

"Here’s what I’ve got to tell you: People are going to do what they’re going to do,” LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said Monday at the 2017 SEC Media Days. “Florida is a great rivalry for us. We respect them. Anytime we go into The Swamp, it’s going to be a battle. We need to prepare. I have a lot of respect for coach McElwain and the job that they do, but we’re going to be ready to play regardless of what it is.”

No matter what they say publicly this week in Hoover, some people are still ticked. And that’s not a bad thing. Alabama has almost turned the SEC into a boring one-horse race.

“Since the departure of Steve Spurrier, Les Miles and Mark Richt,” one SEC coach lamented, “we have to sit around (at the spring meetings in Destin, Fla.) and listen to (Alabama coach Nick) Saban talk.”

Rivalries are the lifeblood of college sports, especially in the SEC, where it’s personal, not business. Territorial imperatives. Retribution. Calling you momma names. Or just gamesmanship that sometimes can be perceived as insult.

In this case, everything backfired on LSU. Alleva had body-blocked and stonewalled Florida from a chance to play on its home soil, accusing Foley of faking emergency hurricane preparedness because he wanted to buy more time for a banged-up Gator defense to heal.

Both sides hunkered down. From the LSU camp came this epistle written by “Tiger Rag” columnist Glenn Guilbeau:

“Foley is a smart man and has been a great athletic director at Florida for 25 years. He knew Florida could not host a football game on Saturday, but what he did was execute a superb delay tactic with the Southeastern Conference office to get any Matthew decision involving the Gators from Wednesday to Thursday. Foley no doubt noticed the year before how South Carolina and the SEC decided on a Wednesday last October to move South Carolina’s home game against LSU to Baton Rouge because of historic flooding in Columbia, South Carolina, and the area ...

"... Foley successfully bamboozled SEC commissioner Greg Sankey into delaying a decision. Sankey was backed into a corner. It was too late to move the game to Baton Rouge or to a neutral site. The fix was in. The game was over, because Sankey let it be over. As late as Thursday or Friday, the game could have been moved to Sunday or Monday in Gainesville, but everyone fumbled where other schools in the hurricane path or close to it did not."

So there’s that. For many Gator fans, this was textbook karma, which is described in Merriam-Webster as "the force created by a person's actions that is believed in Hinduism and Buddhism to determine what that person's next life will be like.”

LSU’s and Alleva’s “next life” have not been so good since then.

First, Mike White’s basketball Gators rubbed it in on Jan. 25 by whacking the Tigers 106-71 in Baton Rouge.

Then more punishment was meted out in a two-game sweep of the six-time NCAA champion LSU baseball team in the College World Series, with the 6-1 clinching victory spawned by a controversial base-running interference call against the Tigers that took the trying run off the scoreboard.

Around here, we can now officially call that LSU-Florida contest on Oct. 7 “The Jeremy Foley Bowl, Presented by Joe Alleva and LSU.”

How do you like them apples, Joe?

Buddy Martin - Buddy Martin is a veteran columnist, talk show host and author. A longtime observer of college football, Martin is heard weeknights on the Buddy Martin Show on ESPN Coastal Georgia and WMOP/WGGG in Ocala/Gainesville Fla. and the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, where he also co-hosts The Terry Bradshaw Show. Buddy won an Emmy while he was with Terry at CBS as an associate producer. More of Buddy's work can be found at BuddyMartinMedia.com where his show is streamed live. Buddy's most recent book is Steve Spurrier's autobiography "Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football" published by Blue Rider Press. He also wrote Urban Meyer's authorized biography, "Urban's Way," and Terry Bradshaw's autobiography "Looking Deep." Contact him at Buddyshow@aol.com, Facebook/The Buddy Martin Show and @Buddyshow on Twitter.