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Dan Mullen wants to end Gators-LSU crossover. He’s right.

The SEC’s scheduling system needs a change. How about pods but no divisions?
Florida and LSU have played some recent classics, but that doesn't mean the crossover system should continue.
Florida and LSU have played some recent classics, but that doesn't mean the crossover system should continue. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Jul. 20

HOOVER, Ala. — The Gators-LSU rivalry has evolved into one of the spiciest in the conference, from the Tigers accusing Florida of ducking them during Hurricane Matthew to last year’s infamous thrown shoe.

But if Florida coach Dan Mullen has his way, it might not be an annual occurrence.

“I don’t want to get the commissioner in trouble here,” Mullen said, “but I’d love us to maybe do away with the permanent crossover team so you get these type of games more often.”

Related: We ranked all 78 Florida college football games from worst to first

By these types of games, Mullen means the one that’s looming in Week 3, when reigning national champion Alabama visits Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time since 2011. Since then, the Gators have gone from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain to Mullen. UF has hosted Alabama-Birmingham more recently than it has the Alabama from Tuscaloosa.

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the SEC schedule, where seven of the eight league games are the same every year (six divisional opponents and one annual crossover, like UF-LSU). The other rotates among the remaining six teams.

The Gators-LSU rivalry is intense, but the crossover necessity robs both teams of other games.
The Gators-LSU rivalry is intense, but the crossover necessity robs both teams of other games. [ Times (2018) ]

“I think for the players, for the fan bases, I really think it’s exciting to see some more of maybe mixing up the teams from the West and playing two different teams each year instead of a permanent crossover,” Mullen said.

This isn’t the first time Mullen has raised this issue; he did the same thing when UF hosted Auburn two years ago.

Mullen didn’t give a specific alternative plan, but one solution is to move toward pods. Each team would have three annual opponents to protect rivalries like Florida-Georgia or the Iron Bowl, while the other five games would rotate. A player would face every SEC team, home and away, during a four-year career. It makes more sense than having ‘Bama go 10 years without visiting the Swamp.

Related: Gators’ 2021 season hinges on their defense, not offense

Mullen’s comments during SEC media days are also noteworthy because of the backdrop of College Football Playoff expansion talks. Under the current proposal, the six top conference champions would have automatic berths in the 12-team field. In that format, would it still make sense to have traditional divisions, where a 7-5 winner of a bad division is one upset away from hurting its conference’s playoff chances? Or does it make more sense to scrap divisions entirely, as the AAC did, to have the top two teams play each other in the championship game?

Arik Gilbert praise

Arik Gilbert chose to transfer to Georgia, not the Gators.
Arik Gilbert chose to transfer to Georgia, not the Gators. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP (2020) ]

The Gators were poised for a massive gain in January when Arik Gilbert orally committed to transfer to Florida from LSU. He never got there, decommitting a month later and eventually landing at rival Georgia.

UF’s loss is Georgia’s gain. Gilbert was the first tight end to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and was the best tight end prospect of the modern recruiting era. The Bulldogs list the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Georgia native as a receiver.

Regardless of his position, Gilbert is already making a big impression at Georgia.

“There are players who have great talent and like football, and then there’s guys like Arik who have great talent and love football,” quarterback JT Daniels said. “... He does a lot of the things that really impress you regardless of his talent level, and then you add that to the level of talent he brings, and he’s a special player.”

Related: Dan Mullen on Miami name, image and likeness deal: ‘Is that legal?’

Odds and ends

The Football Writers Association of America announced Tuesday that it will name its award for the nation’s best first-year coach after Gators legend Steve Spurrier. Chris Doering Mortgage — owned by the former Florida star receiver and current SEC Network analyst — will sponsor the association’s freshman All-America team.

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