Saturday’s Georgia-Florida game didn’t seem that important at the beginning of the year, but this looks like the biggest Cocktail Party in something like a decade, thanks in part to Florida’s surprise 7-1 start and No. 9 ranking. No. 7 Georgia enters Saturday 6-1.
1. It’s their first AP top-10 game since 2008.
Doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, right? Florida was ranked eighth with just the loss to Ole Miss earlier in Tim Tebow’s junior season. Georgia was sixth, with just one loss to Alabama.
Tebow and the Gators crushed Georgia in 2008, winning 49-10. Florida got to exact some revenge, too. The year before, Georgia celebrated a Knowshon Moreno touchdown with the entire Dawg team in the end zone:
Towards the end of 2008’s blowout victory, Florida called some creative time outs:
With less than a minute to go and the result purely academic, CBS’ Gary Danielson said the obvious as Florida came up with a modest gain and the clock kept ticking.
”Well, last play of the game coming up.”
A natural reaction with 44 seconds left. But then Florida called a timeout. The broadcast cut to commercial and returned. The Gators ran another clock-bleeding play with Emmanuel Moody, and then Meyer called another timeout. Danielson wised up to what was going on.
”Here’s the response from Urban Meyer to last year. Taking another timeout to get as much as he can out of this football game. He said, ‘I’ll have a response.’ His response: 49-10, and I’m calling every timeout I got, and I’m gonna finish the game the way I want to.”
”It definitely motivated us,” UF QB Tim Tebow tells SB Nation, years later. “ was a difficult night, not being able to pull out that win, the Florida-Georgia game being so big for me and my family. In my hometown— that was my parents’ first date, was that game — having an injured shoulder and making it worse in that game was disappointing. That ride back to Gainesville was a tough one, and in 2008, we came ready to change things.”
The biggest game since then was in 2012, when Florida was ranked No. 3 (LOL), Georgia 12th. The Dawgs upset the Gators, 17-9.
2. ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Jacksonville for the first time since 2005.
This is Week 9’s only top-10 matchup on the schedule, and one of just three ranked vs. ranked games all weekend. So yeah, this was an easy decision for ESPN.
For the first time since 2005 ...— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 21, 2018
We're headed to Jacksonville for Florida vs. Georgia! pic.twitter.com/tWf8gGA9z1
The last time GameDay was in Duval, the then-No. 16 Gators upset the No. 4 Dawgs 14-10. Oh yeah, and for the first time ever, SEC Network’s GameDay spin-off show, SEC Nation, will be in Jacksonville, too — it marks the first time these shows will be in the same city for a regular season game.
An ESPN contact told SB Nation via email that there are options for the show to “do a few different elements than normal,” so it sounds like the two shows are at least trying to plan some sort of dual thing.
3. Florida’s offense actually looks competent!
The Gators rank 32nd in Off. S&P+ — Florida hasn’t ranked higher than 39th in that category since Urban Meyer left in 2009!
And looking at Florida’s Off. Percentile Performance (explained here), the Gators have had 71 percent or better in every game besides Colorado State in Week 3. Think of that as a single-game performance review adjusted for opponent. Not amazing, but improved and consistent.
Florida QB Feleipe Franks looks much more confident in Dan Mullen’s offense, throwing for 1,406 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had just nine touchdowns and eight interceptions a year ago in Jim McElwain’s system.
4. Georgia might have some quarterback drama — but not necessarily the bad kind.
We’ve seen UGA have QB questions against the Gators in recent years, but this time, the choice is between two good options.
Georgia starting QB Jake Fromm struggled against LSU earlier this month, throwing just one touchdown and two interceptions. Although Fromm’s backup — true freshman and former five-star Justin Fields — came in a lot on third down, he didn’t attempt a pass. Playing Fields a lot more this week and beyond sounds pretty plausible:
If Georgia’s going to win the national championship in 2018, it’s going to have to beat someone through the air at some point.
Maybe that will be Florida, Kentucky, or Auburn in the regular season. Maybe it will be Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. (Or maybe it will be the same LSU team that just destroyed Fromm and the Dawgs in Baton Rouge). If the Dawgs get through all those tests, maybe it’ll be Clemson and its nightmare defensive line. Someone else is going to take away Georgia’s running game and require the QB to win with his arm.
Five-star freshman Justin Fields may or may not be ready to beat teams with his arm. But unless UGA thinks Fromm’s going to flip a switch in the next five minutes, it doesn’t have a lot to lose by giving Fields an extended shot.
5. This game’s got SEC East and maybe even Playoff implications!
If UGA wins and beats Kentucky, the Dawgs will represent the East in Atlanta. If Florida upsets Georgia, and the Dawgs lose to Kentucky, the Wildcats will hold onto the division lead, thanks to the head-to-head win over the Gators. (It gets a little trickier if there’s a three-team tie atop the division.)
And with both Georgia and Florida having just one loss, there’s a shot for the winner of this game to absolutely be in the Playoff conversation.
6. Georgia nearly won the national title, and Florida’s rebuilding. But in this rivalry, that kind of thing doesn’t always mean much.
A recent study found the Cocktail Party is the most unpredictable major rivalry game in college football. Eight times from 1986 through 2015, the clearly superior team (based on end-of-year metrics) lost this game, the most of any major rivalry in that span. Florida has a 5-3 advantage in those games:
The Dawgs kept superior Gators out of the SEC Championship in 1997, 2007 and 2012, but UGA fans might be entitled to feel even more aggrieved.
Mark Richt would almost certainly still be the head coach in Athens without a few of these losses to Florida, specifically because: (1) 2002 SEC champion Georgia likely would have played Miami for the national title without a loss to a Florida that was statistically eight points worse overall, and (2) Georgia would have won the East and been playing for a Playoff spot against Alabama in 2014 if not for the inexplicable loss to Will Muschamp’s last Florida team and a strange loss to Georgia Tech.
Georgia is currently seven-point favorite, and S&P+ gives the Dawgs a 64 percent win probability.
As a lifelong Gator fan, I can tell you it’s always big for both sides, no matter how each teams’ seasons are going. But it’s nice to see this rivalry back on the national stage again.