Dan Mullen has only one request of the Florida student body as the Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) get ready to host No. 5 LSU (5-0, 2-0) at The Swamp (3:30 p.m., CBS) on Saturday.
He wants them to party like it's 2008.
Why? Well, you’ll recall that 2008 was the year:
**--No. 4 Florida lost to Ole Miss at home, 31-30, in a huge upset.
**--After the game quarterback Tim Tebow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, made “The Promise.”
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**--Florida went on to win 10 straight games by double digits, and ultimately captured the BCS national championship.
It is not a coincidence that for LSU’s visit on Saturday, Florida will honor the 10th anniversary of that national championship team. Also, Tebow’s name will become only the sixth in school history to be placed in Florida’s Ring of Honor.
Mullen was the offensive coordinator of that 2008 team and is given the lion’s share of the credit for developing Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner. He remembers what the atmosphere in The Swamp was like back then. This week he challenged the student body to make it that way again on Saturday.
“If you look, in college football, student bodies set the tempo and really set the atmosphere for everybody else out there,” Mullen said Monday during his weekly press briefing. “They come in and they are on their feet, jumping up and down and going crazy in the game. I think the rest of the crowd feeds off that.”
Steve Spurrier named Ben Hill Griffin Stadium “The Swamp” when he took over as head coach in 1990. It became one of the toughest places to play in college football as Spurrier won 122 games, six SEC championships, and one national championship (1996) in his 12 seasons (1990-2001) as head coach. Urban Meyer kept it going with national championships in 2006 and 2008. But it’s fair to say that since Tebow left after the 2009 season, the Swamp’s “Magic” has rarely been seen.
Simply put. The Swamp was still rockin' when Mullen came to Florida as an assistant in 2005. Now it has to be rejuvenated.
“Now we’re trying to get there again," said Mullen.
Truth be told, even if Tebow and the 2008 championship team weren’t being honored on Saturday, there would be a lot to get this crowd juiced up. Just consider the past two games between LSU and Florida, which have met every year since 1971:
**--The 2016 game exposed a lot of bitter feelings between the two schools and their fan bases. The game, originally scheduled for Gainesville on October 8, had to be moved because of Hurricane Matthew and was eventually rescheduled for Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge. There were suggestions made that Florida was trying to “duck” LSU because of an injury situation. Florida was livid at the claim. LSU felt it went the extra mile to get the game played and that Florida was needlessly uncooperative. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey had to step in and broker a deal.
The game came down to the final play as Florida stopped LSU on the one-yard line to win 16-10.
After the game Florida Coach Jim McElwain did not hide his feelings saying: “They got what they deserved. It should have been worse.”
**--Last season LSU coach Ed Orgeron was hanging on to his job for dear life entering the Florida game in Gainesville. His team had just gotten upset by Troy 24-21. When I visited Orgeron in his office earlier this year, he told me about a meeting with his team leaders the following Monday.
“They sat right there (pointing to a huge leather couch) and said they were not coming back to Baton Rouge without winning the game,” said Orgeron.
Before the week was over Orgeron and both coordinators would meet with athletics director Joe Alleva to address reports that all three men were not on the same page. In short, it was a mess at LSU.
LSU won 17-16 when Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the first extra point in his career in the third quarter. He would not get another chance to kick. That one stung the Gators, who would go on to lose six of their last seven games. McElwain would be fired on Oct. 29, the day after a 42-7 loss to Georgia in Jacksonville.
So when Mullen returned as head coach, he found a team and a fan base that was emotionally beat down. Athletics director Scott Stricklin told me that Job No. 1 for Mullen was “to make football at Florida fun again.”
“That is definitely my job,” Mullen told me.
Florida’s only loss this season was at home to Kentucky (27-16). Kentucky is now undefeated (5-0) and ranked No. 13 nationally.
This will be the second straight year LSU has gone to The Swamp, which came out of the negotiations of the Hurricane game in 2016. A win for LSU means the Tigers will be 6-0 and ranked no worse than No. 5 when No. 2 Georgia comes to Baton Rouge next week.
“This is a big game for the LSU Tigers and I know it’s a big game for the Florida Gators,” said Orgeron.