It’s Friday night before the annual Florida-Georgia tilt, and the silence is deafening.
The Battle for the Okefenokee Oar hasn’t meant less in many years. It’s hard to give tickets away. The national media is not paying this game any attention. The fans that are talking about the game on the internet and sports radio are mostly just disseminating and extolling their theories as to why their team will lose on Saturday. The two teams share a lot of sad similarities: disappointing seasons, coaches on the hot seat, identical conference and overall records and a lot of key injuries. Oh, both teams are also unranked.
Yet, in many ways, it means more to each team’s coaches and programs than it has in quite a while. The winner remains mathematically alive in the suddenly-open SEC East race, and the loser’s program just may be facing an entire overhaul; a paradigm shift. Make no mistake about it – even though the national landscape and probably the SEC race won’t be affected by tomorrow’s outcome, there is a lot at stake.
Will Muschamp and Mark Richt’s “streaks” are in play. Yeah, two in a row does constitute a “streak.” It’s the longest such streak for Georgia since 1987-1989. Florida head coach Will Muschamp, a former Bulldog player and UGa grad Will Muschamp is 0-2 against the Dogs and was 0-4 against the Gators as a player. Georgia would love nothing more than to extend both streaks; Florida fans would be miserable with the extension of both. Neither fanbase tolerates consistent losses to the other. No easier way for a Florida or Georgia head coach to generate heat under his seat than demonstrating an inability to beat the hated rival. One of the biggest complaints about Mark Richt from Dog fans during his otherwise successful tenure as Georgia’s head man has been his poor record against Florida. A win tomorrow gives him three in a row and possibly some clemency from the Dog fans with the lit torches and pitchforks. Similarly, a third consecutive loss to Georgia will exponentially increase the heat on Muschamp’s head from the Gator faithful. There’s a small,relatively ignorant yet palpable Florida contingent that thinks Muschamp either can’t beat Georgia or, simply … won’t.
Staying on the topic of both coaches, it’d be interesting to see Vegas odds on the loser of tomorrow’s game keeping his job through to 2014. There’s hysteria in both camps right now. Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses and both
teams had high hopes headed into this season. A loss tomorrow could send the losing team into the tank. Florida still has a daunting schedule ahead, with games against Vanderbilt (which beat Georgia), at #14 South Carolina and at home vs.
national title contender #3 Florida State. Georgia has two tough road tests at #11 Auburn and rival Georgia Tech.
Obviously neither coach can withstand a total freefall. Obviously, however, a freefall for either team could happen.
Let’s not forget recruiting implications. Both Florida and Georgia currently have good recruiting classes assembled but both need to not only keep the committed studs in the fold, but close strong as well. A bad loss tomorrow for either team
could create a serious loss of momentum. There will be a lot of highly regarded prospects in attendance tomorrow and several of these prospects are being pursued by both teams. Goes without saying that the winner could likely take the
spoils, but I said it anyway.
Most Florida and Georgia fans have written the SEC East off but, in reality, the winner is still very much in the mix for a trip to Atlanta. The road shapes up much more favorably for Georgia as it has the easier schedule and is regaining a lot
more players from injury than Florida, but either team would still firmly be in the mix. Missouri has four SEC games remaining: vs. Tennessee, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss and vs. Johnny Football and Texas A&M. The Tigers could easily lose 2 of those games. South Carolina only has Mississippi State and Florida left, both at home. But the Gamecocks lose the tiebreaker to Georgia and would obviously lose it to Florida if the Gators were to come up victorious in Columbia. Both Florida and Georgia would have to win out and both teams will be the decided underdog in one of their remaining SEC games. Both also lost to Missouri. Long shot? Absolutely. But stranger things have happened.
Personally, I must admit I am not as fired up about tomorrow’s game as I usually am. It’s hard to be, all things considered. But I am reminding myself this IS still Georgia. This game would be huge even if both teams were 0-7.
I will be decked out in my Gator finery and cheering as loudly tomorrow as I would in any other year. As to what I think will happen? Well, objectively, I’m not optimistic. Georgia returns Todd Gurley and Josh Harvey-Clemons tomorrow,
two key players, while Florida returns Ronald Powell but also loses starting offensive lineman DJ Humpries, pressing the largely untested Trenton Brown into service. Georgia still has one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in Aaron
Murray and with the re-addition of the electric Todd Gurley, it will be really hard for this banged up and tired defense to keep them from putting points on the board. Offensively, I just can’t see how much can possibly change from that debacle two weeks ago, aside from more Kelvin Taylor. Georgia’s defense is not very good but many worse things can and have been said about Florida’s offense. My pick is Georgia 27, Florida 13.
But rest easy, Gator Nation. I HAVE been wrong before.