3. Oct. 11, 1997
No. 1 Florida Gators at No. 14 LSU Tigers
Final score: LSU wins 28-21
Yes, there are lots of Florida Gators games on here. But this one was huge. Tennessee football had a ton of excitement when Peyton Manning announced he would return for his senior season. However, despite Danny Wuerffel graduating, Steve Spurrier managed to back up all the trash talk from the offseason and lead UF to a fifth straight victory over the Vols 33-20.
The previous four had sent Florida to the SEC Championship game, and now there was no reason to believe this year would be any different. After all, at this point, the Gators had won 22 straight SEC games, four straight SEC Championships and were defending national champions. Beating UT, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Arkansas Razorbacks would move that SEC streak to 25 games.
And all of that is what set the stage for this game. Earlier in the season, after losing to UF to fall to 2-1, Manning regrouped the team as a senior and gave an impassioned speech ahead of their next game, which would come off a bye against the Ole Miss Rebels, the team he spurned for the Vols. That combined with the arrival of Jamal Lewis allowed them to dominate 31-17.
One week later, Lewis exploded in a 3:30 p.m. game against the Georgia Bulldogs for over 200 yards as the Vols won 38-13. As they dominated that one, this Florida game was starting. The LSU Tigers were 4-1 and ranked No. 14 with their only loss coming by three points to the Auburn Tigers, but they had just barely beaten the Vanderbilt Commodores 7-6.
As a result, Florida was a heavy favorite in this game. They had won the previous year 56-13. But the Tigers were a different team in Death Valley. And they managed to keep the game close, taking it into the fourth quarter tied at 14. That confidence is all LSU needed.
In the fourth, LSU cashed in on three Florida turnovers. The first was a pick-six. Then they recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and cashed in with another offensive touchdown to go up 28-14.
Florida pulled it to 28-21 and then got the ball back. But Doug Johnson threw an interception late, UF’s fifth turnover of the game, and allowed LSU to run out the clock. Tiger fans stormed the field and were ecstatic, but nobody was happier than UT fans. For the first time since 1993, Tennessee football was in the SEC race in mid-October, and this time, they had Manning to guide them.