While Florida has had (with the exception of one half in Knoxville) a good season, Georgia has struggled in Kirby Smart’s first campaign. The Dawgs’ issues culminated in handing Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason his first road win in the SEC, leaving Georgia to do little more than try to spoil the East.
Georgia will get that chance in Jacksonville for the 2016 edition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
S&P+ says Georgia is almost 22 points worse than Florida and gives the Gators a 90 percent chance of winning, so the odds of an upset are not good. Georgia has only beaten Florida six times since 1990 (half of which were against Agent Will Muschamp), so history does not provide much solace, either.
So why should Georgia fans make their annual trek to Jacksonville, other than non-refundable hotel and rental house deposits?
Because Florida-Georgia is the most unpredictable major rivalry over the last three decades, based on a statistical review from this past offseason.
Eight of the last 30 games between the teams saw a team that finished at least three points worse, according to S&P+, beat its superior rival.
However, five of the eight upsets were won by Florida and none of the eight upsets had anything close to the spread that S&P+ projects between the 2016 teams, so maybe give up anyway?
Only Oklahoma-Texas and UCLA-USC finished within one upset of Florida-Georgia, and both had slightly more lopsided records in those upset games, as well.
Let’s go back through each of those upsets, which also came during the period when this rivalry gained most of its national prominence.
Numbers in parentheses are Estimated S&P+ ratings for each team as of the end of the season, indicating each team’s full-season quality. The higher the better, and the difference between the two numbers indicates the score that would’ve been anticipated if they’d played after bowl season.
Florida (9.1) 26
Georgia (13.6) 24
There was a time when it was not apparent that Ray Goff was hopelessly overmatched. His second season was a promising 9-3. His third season saw Georgia come to Jacksonville ranked No. 6 with thoughts of winning the East and having a titanic showdown with unbeaten Alabama in the inaugural SEC Championship.
Sure enough, Georgia’s first play was an 80-yard touchdown run by fullback Frank Harvey, using star tailback Garrison Hearst as a decoy.
And then the rest of the game illustrated that Steve Spurrier was a somewhat better coach. Georgia gave up 20 unanswered points and got back to within 26-24 with four minutes remaining, then could not stop Shane Matthews.
Georgia would have to wait a decade for its first trip to the conference title game. Florida would play in each of the first five SEC Championships, a streak that started with this upset over Georgia.
Georgia (14.4) 37
Florida (21.6) 17
At Florida, Spurrier lost once in 12 games against Georgia. This was the one, and he had the better team.
Georgia tailback Robert Edwards ran wild, scoring four touchdowns, and Florida’s shaky passing game — a rarity for Spurrier — was unable to keep up. Florida was forced to rotate starter Doug Johnson with walk-on Noah Brindise, a gambit that worked until Georgia figured out that Brindise’s arm strength was limited.
The ‘97 Gators were an odd team. They gave both Gerry Dinardo and Jim Donnan their biggest wins as head coaches; they also handed Tennessee and Florida State their only regular season losses, depriving Peyton Manning of a Heisman and the Noles a shot at the national title.
Florida (10.1) 20
Georgia (17.9) 13
In a quarter-century of consistent frustration in Jacksonville, this is the most painful loss for Georgia fans. Florida arrived with a 5-3 record, struggling in Ron Zook’s first season. Georgia was unbeaten in Mark Richt’s second year. Expecting an uncomplicated win, the Dawgs got screened to death, with Florida completing what seemed like a billion bubble screens, to which Brian VanGorder could never adjust.
And if you ask a Georgia fan about this game, he or she will mention the Terrence Edwards drop. Sadly for the brother of a player who scored four touchdowns against the Gators, “Terrence Edwards Drop Florida” leads to 498,000 hits in Google.
This game produces a number of what-ifs. Would Georgia have played in the BCS Championship instead of Ohio State in 2002 without blowing a game to Zook? Would a playoff have arrived earlier if a 12-0 Ohio State was denied a title shot? Would Richt’s team have upset Miami, and if so, would he still be the head coach in Athens instead of in ... Miami?
Florida (14.8) 16
Georgia (18.9) 13
As a show of generosity, Richt gave Zook another unexpected win Florida again arrived at 5-3 and as an underdog. Georgia had lost once at LSU, but was still in national title contention.
And somehow, the Georgia offense failed to cross the state border, scoring only 13 points. For good measure, Florida’s only touchdown — the first in the game came after 38 minutes — came on the same bubble screen that the Gators had used repeatedly the year before.
The game did not have a major effect. Georgia still won the East, but got trampled by eventual national champion LSU in Atlanta. Florida finished with a loss to Florida State and then another loss to another Big Ten team in the bowl game, just as they had the year before.
However, by this point, Georgia fans could rightly worry that they were hexed in Jacksonville. Losing to superior Spurrier teams was one thing; losing twice in a row to Zook was another.
Florida (11.4) 14
Georgia (17.4) 10
For the second time in four seasons, Georgia arrived unbeaten and still managed to lose to an inferior Florida team.
This time, there were a pair of extenuating circumstances. First, the Dawgs were missing starting quarterback D.J. Shockley, leaving Joe Tereshinski to try his luck against a fierce defense. (If you want to know Richt’s level of fear of throwing the ball, check out the play-calling on second and 17 and third and 15 in the fourth quarter with a four-point deficit.)
Second, Florida was now coached by Urban Meyer, who had inadvertently started the “Urban Cryer” meme the week before, but who, as it would turn out, was really good in rivalry games. In five seasons in Gainesville, he went 13-2 against Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State. One of those two losses would come two years later in especially memorable circumstances ...
Georgia (14.4) 42
Florida (21.8) 30
Florida arrived as the defending national champion. Tim Tebow would ultimately win the Heisman Trophy in 2007, accounting for over 4,000 yards rushing and passing and 55 touchdowns.
But this game was marked by The Celebration.
Georgia had a team-wide party in the end zone after its first touchdown, drawing a pair of personal foul flags. (Note how Uncle Verne and Gary Danielson are non-plussed and figure out Richt’s gambit immediately.) Ten years after Robert Edwards went wild in handing Spurrier his only Cocktail Party loss, Knowshon Moreno ran for 188 yards and three touchdowns in handing Meyer his only Jacksonville defeat.
Georgia (18.9) 17
Florida (22.4) 9
Twenty years after Goff’s best chance to make Atlanta went by the wayside in a Cocktail Party upset, Muschamp — a safety on that Goff team — suffered the same fate. His best Florida team lost only once in the regular season: an eight-point defeat that would send Georgia to Atlanta for an agonizing loss to Alabama with a national title trip on the line.
Georgia’s three upset wins over Florida have all been marked by great individual performances. 1997 was the Edwards game, 2007 was the Moreno game, and this was the Jarvis Jones game. Jones had 13 tackles, three sacks, and forced a fumble when Florida was driving for a potential game-tying score. Not surprisingly, even Muschamp’s best team would lose a game in which it scored nine points and committed six turnovers.
Florida (11.6) 38
Georgia (22.6) 20
There is no explanation for this. Georgia was ranked in the top 10, having just thrashed Arkansas in Little Rock. Florida was 3-3 without a semblance of a passing game. Muschamp had yet to win in Jacksonville, either as a Georgia player or a Florida coach, and was a dead man walking.
So naturally, a Florida offense that broke 200 yards rushing only against Eastern Michigan, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina — never getting more than 259 yards on the ground — ran for 418 yards against the Dawgs, with both Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones going nuts. Georgia had not allowed even half that number in its prior seven games.
It was this tendency for the annual, inexplicable debacle that led to the end of Richt’s tenure.
If Smart wants to have a tenure that comes close to Richt’s 15 seasons, it would help for his team to add to the lore of Cocktail Party upsets on Saturday.
If Jim McElwain wants to have a tenure like those of Spurrier and Meyer, he needs to remember that each of them lost to Georgia only once.