GAINESVILLE - LSU may be a group of wounded Tigers coming off a 29-point loss to Georgia and carrying two conference losses, but as far as Florida is concerned, it is still the defending co-national champion.
And that's exactly the way the Gators have been preparing this week.
"They're the national champ in my mind until somebody takes their crown," linebacker Channing Crowder said. "You've got to play them like they're the national champion and they have the potential to be great. They have young quarterbacks; they'll click. You don't know when they'll click and have a great game. With athletes like that, with the SEC, you've got to play every game like it's the last one."
In a way, it could be. Florida will host LSU Saturday night and a loss most likely eliminates LSU from the SEC title race. LSU has dropped from No. 4 early in the season to No. 24, but its two losses were to two undefeated teams - Georgia and Auburn. That makes the Gators see things from a different perspective.
"It's not like they lost to two chumps," center Mike Degory said. "They lost to two really good teams. I guess in a way they kind of have their backs against the wall. We know LSU is talented. They won the national championship eight months ago, and that's saying something. They're still as deadly as possible."
LSU's situation is slightly similar to Florida's last season when the Gators went into Baton Rouge with three losses to face then-undefeated LSU. Florida won 19-7, the Tigers' only loss of the season.
"We're going to get their best effort," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "They are a good football team, a really good football team. And we're going to need to give the same kind of effort we gave last year because we are going to get theirs. It's a great Southeastern Conference challenge."
A CHANGE OF HEART: On Monday, LSU coach Nick Saban was so upset with his team that he lashed out during his weekly media session. He accused them of lacking in veteran leadership and wanting good things to happen just because of last season's success.
"I do think that, I've said this before, this has been a difficult team because a lot of good stuff happened last year, a lot of expectations this year, not enough emphasis on working hard, things being difficult and all that," Saban said. "(It's) "how can we make it easy, Coach?' "Why do we have to run progressives today?' "We won the game last week, so why don't you give us a bone?' "We beat Mississippi State.' That's what you're supposed to do. No disrespect to them. But it's always been too easily satisfied."
But as the week has progressed, Saban has softened a bit. He said after Wednesday's practice he likes what he has seen from his players.
"We've had a good week of practice so far," he said. "I've been encouraged by the way the players have responded this week as we've tried to continue to develop some confidence, continuity and chemistry on both sides of the ball. I've liked the spirit and the enthusiasm of the team. I think there's been a little bit better attention to detail, which I think is important when it comes to execution. Hopefully, it will show on the field when we play on Saturday."
HER FACE IN THE CROWD: Volleyball player Jane Collymore has made it into Sports Illustrated. Collymore, a junior outside hitter from Englewood, Colo., is featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the Sept. 27 SI. She was recognized for recording six consecutive double doubles (10 or more kills and digs) this season and for setting a Florida-record 86 kill attempts in a match. Collymore is on pace to have the second-best season in school history in kills per game.
HOT PROSPECT: Florida basketball coach Carolyn Peck has picked up her fourth oral commitment for next season. MarshaeDotson, a small forward from Mifflin High in Columbus, Ohio, committed after visiting the campus last weekend. Dotson averaged 18.3 points and 13.4 rebounds last season and chose the Gators over FSU, Kentucky and Auburn.
Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or firstname.lastname@example.org