The forecast track for Hurricane Matthew still makes for the likelihood of some fairly severe weather through Gainesville, Florida tomorrow. Here’s the weekend forecast there, courtesy of the Weather Channel…
It appears that by Saturday’s noon kickoff (local time) the weather won’t be a major impediment to the game. It will be windy, and it’s likely to be overcast, and that 10 percent chance of rain could easily change to 100 percent depending on what Matthew does, but it seems clear that the worst will be behind. Gainesville isn’t on the Atlantic coast, after all, and that’s where the real hurricane damage is going to take place.
The issue is tomorrow’s weather. LSU is going to fly in to Tampa just after noon on Friday and then take a bus to Ocala, which is about two hours up I-75 from the Tampa airport. Ocala is about a half-hour down I-75 from Gainesville and the weather forecast there is about the same as it is for Gainesville. So LSU is going to fly in behind a hurricane and then basically drive into it in order to hunker down at the Hilton in Ocala while the place is buffeted by the outer ring of Matthew – carrying five inches of rain and tropical storm winds up to 50 MPH or so. Perhaps Pat O’Brien’s can sponsor the beverages for that hurricane party at the hotel.
By Saturday morning, the trip to the stadium will likely be a lot easier – assuming there aren’t downed trees or power lines on the roadway, major traffic accidents or the Zombie Apocalypse. And Gordy Rush, on the Tigerzone radio show following Ed Orgeron’s coach’s show last night, was spot on when he said that LSU has absolutely no complaints about any of this – because LSU is a better team than Florida overall and LSU is in a lot better shape than the Gators are given that five of Florida’s defensive front seven are either out for the game or will be playing through injuries. For a team which just ran for over 400 yards on Missouri, whose defensive line was supposed to be one of the better fronts in the SEC, playing this game at noon Eastern time is perfectly fine.
And Florida knows it, which is why there is a lot of suspicion that the Gators’ intransigence yesterday about moving the game – which makes today too late to consider alternate preparations – wasn’t about keeping a home game but bailing on one altogether.
Rush and Charles Hanagriff speculated about this quite a bit Wednesday night. Hanagriff took the position that it was insane to try to play a football game inside the cone of uncertainty of a hurricane, which Gainesville nearly is, and the Florida folks damn well know that, and it’s not unlikely that the game will end up being cancelled.
After all, here was Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s warning about Matthew…to everyone anywhere near it:
“We are going to have a catastrophic storm whether it’s a direct impact or not,” said Scott. “We have not had a storm like this on the East coast for a long time.”
While it remains unclear if Florida will get a direct hit by Hurricane Matthew, Scott said no one should take a chance especially since Florida’s coast will begin to feel the effects sometime around noon.
“Only a small deviation in the forecast track to the West could bring the center of the storm to us,” said Scott.“The storm will kill you. We don’t have much time left.”
That kind of alarm raised by the governor seems to fly in the face of playing a college football game on the edge of the cone. Scott has already called out 1,500 National Guardsmen, with the potential of calling out as many as 5,000 in the next day or so, to deal with the storm. So would anybody be surprised if at some point today he jumps in and cancels the game?
And if he does, Florida then goes to the SEC office and asks for the game to be rescheduled for Nov. 19, when Florida has a game with Presbyterian and LSU has one with South Alabama. The SEC can, apparently, buy out the contracts for those games and then insert the LSU-Florida game into that date. Which would mean LSU finishes the season with three straight road games at Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M – with only five days between the Florida and Texas A&M games.
Or else the game is simply cancelled, in which case a beat-up Florida team ends up with only one game in 28 days between last week’s struggle at Vanderbilt (Florida won 13-6) and the huge matchup with Georgia three weeks from now. A win over Georgia in Jacksonville and another later in the season at Arkansas are really the only truly tough games Florida has left in conference play, and should Tennessee lose this weekend to Texas A&M and later in the season against Alabama, Florida might be in a position to win the SEC East at 6-1. But having lost to Tennessee they can’t afford a loss to LSU this week.
In other words, the Gators would be crying crocodile tears if the game is rescheduled or cancelled rather than being played this weekend.
Neither of those eventualities would be worse than having to move the game to Baton Rouge, or Tallahassee or Mobile – any of which are available Saturday. Florida State is at Miami on Saturday, while South Alabama, which uses Ladd Stadium in Mobile, is off this week. But Florida would have to refund ticketholders if the game isn’t in Gainesville (they’re almost assuredly insured for such an eventuality), and this way if they do have to play at least they can hold onto the gate.
It’s not their finest moment. The game should have been moved. It’s likely to be a debacle for Florida if it happens – tiny crowd and meager homefield advantage, logistical nightmare for support staff, players freaked out about damage to their homes and families, plus the injuries that don’t have anything to do with the storm and the fact LSU is a more talented team. The approach they’ve taken is the one you’d expect from someone who’s trying not to play at all, and that’s why there is suspicion that’s what Florida is up to.