Vegas loves the Gators in 2009

One of the first signs college football season is getting close is when the people ESPN's Lee Corso refer to as "the experts in the desert" begin to make games available for wagering. This week the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas issued advance lines for 130 of the 2009 college football season's biggest matchups.

As you might expect, defending national champion Florida is projected to win every time out. Just how heavy they're favored may surprise even the most fervent Gator partisan, though.

The Golden Nugget set lines on five Florida games for the upcoming season - Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and FSU. The Gators are favored by double digits in all of them, including their visit to Baton Rouge.

Florida's recent dominance against Tennessee guaranteed they would be a sizable favorite in the September 19 meeting in Gainesville. Once Lane Kiffin ran his mouth about beating the Gators the day he was introduced and just kept talking, expectations of a UF rout have only risen from a public with last year's Urban Meyer vengeance against Georgia fresh in their mind. If Kiffin wants a "nobody believes in us" motivational pitch he's got one, because Florida is favored by 27. To put that in perspective, Florida was favored by 25 points against the Vols in the last four years combined.

The Gators being favored in LSU isn't stunning, but the amount is. Florida is an 11 point favorite in Baton Rouge October 10. LSU was favored by a touchdown the first two times Meyer brought his team in to face them. Last year's Alabama game was the only time in the last five years the Tigers were home underdogs, and that was by just a field goal. Couple that with Florida's 30 point pasting of LSU in Gainesville last year and you can count on Les Miles having his guys unbelievably energized for the rematch.

Georgia endured Mark Richt's worst loss of his career in Jacksonville last year, something they're using as a rallying point this offseason. The Golden Nugget appears unconvinced that they're in position to do much about it, making the Gators a 16 point choice on Halloween. One potential troubling item is that Georgia will be coming off a bye week while Florida's on the road for a game with Miss State, a scenario that led to a rare UGA win in 2007.

If the LSU line is the most surprisingly high of the five issued for Florida, the November 14 meeting with South Carolina may be the most unexpectedly low. The Gators have thrashed the Gamecocks by a combined 70 points the past two years, yet they're only favored by 17 in this one. Perhaps Steve Spurrier's squad is still getting some benefit of the doubt from their 2005 victory and near miss the year after.

Florida has been favored over FSU each of Meyer's first four seasons, and you can track the gap between the programs steadily getting bigger by watching the line grow. It's increased from 3.5 in 2005 to UF by nine on the road in 2006. Next year in Gainesville it rose to fourteen and then went up to 15.5 in Tallahassee last season. Now the number opens at 20, and considering FSU hasn't scored more than 15 points in any of their games against a Meyer coached team that could easily rise.

Vegas lines don't tell us what's going to happen, but they measure public perception. Even the other teams expected to be among the nation's best aren't getting the kind of credit Florida is from those who choose to put money behind their college football opinions. Keeping his guys mentally focused despite all the public praise may be the toughest test Urban Meyer will face this season.

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