As we dive into my five bold predictions for the LSU-Florida games, I invite Florida fans to avert their eyes.

This won’t be a love fest.

What I’m seeing is an injury-ravaged team that should struggle in a hostile environment. What I’m also seeing is a program, and a conference, that should have made this game happen six weeks ago.

But I will say this: Florida, with most of its team coming back and a favorable home schedule, will be a force to be reckoned with next year.

So here are my five predictions for Saturday in Baton Rouge:

1. Austin Appleby takes at least three sacks: There’s plenty of talk about how bad Florida’s offense has been this year and make no mistake, the Gators are no juggernaut, coming into the game ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring and 12th in total offense.

But one thing Florida does well is manage the game. The Gators have a modest number of turnovers (15) and they avoid long-yardage situations by not giving up sacks (just 13 in 294 pass attempts).

But this week might be a little different. Florida left tackle David Sharpe is banged up, and this week he’s going up against one of the SEC’s premier pass rushers, Arden Key.

Either Key wreaks havoc, or if the Gators overcompensate to try to help block him, it creates other weaknesses. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, one of the best in the business, will surely exploit those adjustments.

That adds up to Appleby hitting the turf more than Florida quarterbacks are used to.

2. The Tigers and Gators pull the “over:” On paper, this will be a defensive slugfest. Both teams are offensively challenged, ranking 10th (LSU) and 11th in the SEC in scoring offense while the defenses rank second (Florida) and third in points allowed.

Sounds like a 10-7 nail biter, right?

Don’t buy it for a couple of reasons. First, LSU has been better on offense under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, scoring 32.3 points per game, numbers that would make the Tigers fifth in the league if projected over the whole season.

And second, Florida is playing for an SEC East title. The Gators are will go for the jugular and perhaps take some risks. Those could provide points — but for which team is the question.

It doesn’t matter. Points will be scored and even with the over/under at somewhere around 39, I still like the over. The rugged defenses might contribute to the tally, but points will be scored.

3. LSU has two 100-yard rushers: How do you run on the second-best rush defense in the SEC?

Try taking out that defense’s three leading tacklers. That will be the case for LSU against Florida, which comes into the game giving up just 111.7 yards per game on the ground. But the Gators will also be without their two starting linebackers, Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone and starting safety Marcus Maye, their three leading tacklers this season.

Expect the Tigers to look for ways to loosen up the run defense early, then pound the defense with both Derrius Guice (below) and Leonard Fournette. Look for the duo to both break the century mark in yardage, with Fournette getting his early and Guice as the second half wears on.

Nov 12, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; LSU Tigers running back Derrius Guice (5) runs down the sidelines for a 94 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. LSU won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports


4. LSU wins big: There are too many injuries at too many key spots for Florida.

Not having Sharpe healthy (or maybe at all) in the week the Gators are facing Key hurts. Not having all the run stuffers the week they play Fournette and Guice really hurts.

And having the game in Baton Rouge instead of Gainesville hurts even more.

Remember the over/under prediction? I’m suggesting a lot of the “over” will come from LSU. The Tigers should win big here in a game that would be competitive if both teams were healthy.

But Florida, unfortunately, is not. I’ll go with LSU 31, Florida 10.

5. LSU regrets the compromise next year: This game could have and should have been played in October when Hurricane Matthew caused its postponement, but the SEC and Florida dropped the ball on creating a list of contingency scenarios — if the hurricane does this, we do this.

Instead, the game was wiped out and few options were available to reschedule and we ended up with this compromise — both teams dropped home games this weekend to play in Baton Rouge instead of Gainesville, allowing LSU to avoid having to play three road SEC games in 13 days.

In return, Florida gets the home game in the series the next two seasons, meaning the Tigers get to play five SEC road games next year.

This little advantage LSU has now is wonderful — maybe the Tigers can use it to help get to the Sugar Bowl — but for whoever the new coach will be, it will be a huge hindrance next year.

LSU will have to go to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee in the same season (also to Ole Miss and Mississippi State). That’s going to be a killer for the new coach, whether it’s Orgeron, Jimbo Fisher or somebody else.

And mark my words, when LSU comes out of the month of September and looking down the barrel of a stretch that reads: at Florida, Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, Arkansas, at Tennessee and Texas A&M, there will be folks saying, “Why didn’t we just go to Florida last year?”

The answer? Because Florida and the SEC dropped the ball in October.