This Saturday, the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs will meet in Jacksonville once again for one of the greatest rivalry games in all of college football. And the fate of one or both of these teams could be decided in that 60 minutes.
With Florida at No. 9 in this week’s AP Poll and Georgia at No. 7, this is the first Top 10 matchup between the teams since 2008. The No. 5 Gators defeated the No. 8 Bulldogs that day in dominating fashion 49-10 en route to a national title.
Even in some down years for both schools, this game still typically decided the winner of the SEC East. This year’s game not only holds serious implications in conference play, but for the College Football Playoff.
After the season the Gators had in 2017, it is hard to fathom Florida and College Football Playoff being uttered in the same sentence at this point in the season, but a win on Saturday would open the door for contention.
“It really is exciting,” said junior wide receiver Josh Hammond. “Guys on this team have worked and prepared for it, to have the right to play in this big game on Saturday. I think guys have the right mindset moving forward. Everybody is ready to play and we also know that we have to prepare the right way.”
The Gators all echoed the same message when it comes to the importance of it being a Top 10 matchup. Of course, it is the most important game because it is the next game—blah, blah, blah—but it is more than that.
Rankings may mean next to nothing right now, but being considered one of the best teams in the country changes the feeling around a program. Still having Playoff hopes past the halfway point in the season changes things.
Dan Mullen just hopes that feeling will still be alive come Saturday night and in the weeks to come.
“You’re as good as your last game, so hopefully we’ll be ranked in the Top 10 after this week,” he said. “If we are, then that’s a good thing. When you win games, the next one becomes bigger. The rankings, to me, are fun … More important to me is where you are at the end of the season.”
This is not a prototypical Top 10 team. Florida is the only team in the current AP Poll that finished last season at or below .500.
At this time a year ago, essentially the same group of players had absolutely nothing for Georgia and probably would have already fell to pieces in multiple games this season. But something has changed since Mullen and his staff took the reins, and the Gators have already proven that they can compete with some of those top tier teams.
“I think they’re a team that is really learning how to play hard and play together as a team and finding ways to win,” Mullen said in his assessment of Florida. “I don’t think they’re a team you point at and say, ‘Wow, they are just this smothering, dominating defense or this explosive, high-scoring offense.’ They’re a team that plays together as a team and does what they need to do to win.”
That’s all Florida needs to do in Jacksonville. Win.
The Gators have won in so many ways this season, and with Georgia’s arsenal of weapons, they will likely have to find another new way this week.
Either way, Florida-Georgia is back like it never left. That is a great thing for college football.