<
>

Tebow or not? That is the question for Gators, LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Alligator will be served at tailgating parties across LSU's campus and the noise in Death Valley will be deafening.

That much can be predicted with near certainty when No. 1 Florida visits the fourth-ranked Tigers on Saturday night in a highly anticipated matchup of unbeaten teams.

As for what may happen inside the lines, there's a lot more suspense.

It begins with whether Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow will have recovered well enough from his concussion at Kentucky two weeks ago to suit up. Florida coach Urban Meyer has said he doesn't expect a decision on that until sometime shortly before kickoff.

The intrigue has built throughout the week. Tebow returned to practice Tuesday. He shared first-team snaps all week with John Brantley, who may have to make his first college start in what is arguably the most challenging game on the Gators' schedule.

Two teams ranked this high haven't met in Tiger Stadium since 1959, when No. 1 LSU hosted No. 3 Mississippi. Florida (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), the leader in the SEC East, and LSU (5-0, 3-0), one of three undefeated teams in the West, will remain contenders to win their respective divisions regardless of Saturday night's outcome.

"I think this is a preview of what you might see in the SEC (championship) game," LSU running back Charles Scott said.

Meyer assured that Brantley will be ready if he gets the call.

"I have a lot of confidence in him, and it's not false confidence," Meyer said. "It's confidence from what you see him do in practice. ... Johnny's not going to go in there by himself. He's got 10 other guys on offense, some very mature guys, that are going to take care of that guy."

Brantley, a redshirt sophomore, has pedigree. His father played quarterback for Florida. The younger Brantley was 27-1 as a high school starter, leading Trinity Catholic to a Florida high school state title in 2006.

Yet, his playing time has consisted of mop-up duty at Florida. His lack of experience could be a liability in Tiger Stadium, where poise is at a premium for visiting quarterbacks dealing with noise levels that have been known to set off seismological instruments on campus.

"It gets crazy in the Valley, man," Scott said. "It gets crazy to the point where it can be a factor in the game, definitely."

LSU has won 32 straight Saturday night games at home, a streak that began in 2002 and includes a memorable 2007 triumph over Florida.

The chances of that streak holding up might be better if Tebow sits out, but the Tigers insist they'd rather see the Gators' star quarterback healthy.

"We definitely want Tebow to play," LSU tight end Richard Dickson said. "He's a great player. He does great things for the sport. He's an unbelievable competitor. It wouldn't be Florida without him. But ... they're a great team anyway. They have so many playmakers."

Indeed, Florida has one of the best running games around. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have combined for 565 yards and could have had more if Tebow didn't run so much himself. And the Gators' offense may be the least of LSU's worries.

Florida's defense has all starters -- and all top reserves -- back from last season's national championship squad. The Gators have allowed only two touchdowns and a total of 29 points through their first four games. They will present the toughest test yet for LSU sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who is making his eighth career start.

Jefferson has won his last six games primarily by minimizing turnovers and completing nearly 63 percent of his passes, mostly on short, safe throws.

Florida counters with one of the best defensive backfields in college football, including cornerback Joe Haden and safety Ahmad Black, who both were with the Gators when they lost at LSU in 2007.

"We just have two more years of experience and a national championship under our belt," Haden said.

LSU's offense was encouraged by the way its running game stepped up in a victory at Georgia last weekend. Scott had his best game yet, with 95 yards and a pair of late touchdowns, including a tackle-breaking 33-yarder for the game winner.

The Tigers could use another performance like that, and a lot more consistency all around. LSU players are aware they've been called one of the weakest No. 4 teams in history, in large part because of the way they've scraped by in wins over Washington, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Georgia. Yet, every time Tigers needed a scoring drive or defensive stand, they came through.

"It shows that we have it," Jefferson said. "We've just got to put it all together in the whole game. Once we find that, it's going to be hard to stop us."

If LSU sputters, though, the result could be more like last year's meeting in Gainesville, Fla., when the Gators took a 20-0 led en route to a dominant 51-21 win.

"All I can think about is redemption," LSU left tackle Ciron Black said. "Not necessarily revenge -- I'm not out to get Florida or anything like that. ... What I'm worried about is playing like we know how to play."