Stakes elevate already important rivalry game


Florida's Jordan Reed scores a touchdown during the first half as Georgia defensive back Damian Swann looks on at EverBank Field in Jacksonville on Oct. 29, 2011.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.

One of the cool things about Florida-Georgia being in Jacksonville is that it brings to life the cliche about how you can throw out the records.

It's not so much because either team could win, but because no matter the records of the two teams, it's a huge game.

Sometimes it's huge because one team has a lot on the line. Sometimes it's big because both teams have a lot on the line. It's even big when neither team has a lot on the line.

That's the charm of a 50-50 game in Jacksonville — it's big no matter what.

“When you come across that bridge on the St. Johns River, if your blood isn't boiling, something is wrong with you," Will Muschamp said.

This year's game? It would be big no matter where.

You could play it in Savannah or Cedar Key, and it would be big. This is only the third time in the last 25 years that both teams have been ranked in the top 12 by The Associated Press poll. Both teams are in the top 10 of the BCS standings. And while the SEC East is on the line for Florida, it might as well be on the line for a Georgia team that has only Ole Miss and Auburn left on its schedule.

What that usually means is that both teams will come to play. And both coaches will come to coach.

Because this game is huge for both of them.

It would be easy to step back and say, “Well, for Muschamp, it's only his second year and he's already engineered an amazing turnaround. I mean, this team is almost guaranteed of a 10-win season when idiots like you, Dooley, said they were an 8-4 team. So it's a lot bigger for Mark Richt.”

All of that would be true, but you don't have to call me names.

It is bigger for Richt.

Think Muschamp cares?

It's bigger for Richt because he hasn't beaten anybody in a while, and he's starting to develop a reputation for not coming up big in the biggest games. He has beaten Florida three times in his career and those three Florida teams have combined for 15 losses.

It's bigger for Richt because a win would put Georgia in position to win the East in back-to-back years, and he'd be the first coach to do that more than once who is not named Steve Spurrier.

It's bigger for Richt because he has yet to beat Florida in consecutive years.

But we all know it's big for Muschamp. He has never been a winner in this game. I'm guessing he'd like to get on that bus one time to go home with a “W” in his back pocket.

To win the East in his second season would put Muschamp in a different stratosphere. One more win, and that happens. One more win, and people start to seriously think about the possibility of maybe going to Miami. I know, Alabama looks awfully good.

But Florida doesn't need to be better than Alabama on Saturday. It only needs to be better than Georgia.

You can argue about which of the above reasons are more important, but if you are part of the Gator Nation, this may be the biggest reason why it's big.

The team has this slogan conjured up in the summer by strength coach Jeff Dillman — “Florida Never Breaks.”

I'm giving these Gators a different slogan this week — “Florida Always Answers.”

These players don't know and wouldn't understand how painful this series was in the 1970s and 1980s. But starting in 1990, it turned around faster than your runaway dog when you rattle the box of Milk Bones behind him.

Since then, Florida has won 18 of 22 games. And the three previous games that Florida lost during that stretch? Each time the Gators came back the following year with a win.

Florida … Always … Answers.

Spurrier's only loss came in 1997's troubled season. The following year, he won 38-7. Urban Meyer had two chances to answer. In his first year, after Florida had lost to Georgia in the week Ron Zook was fired, Meyer won 14-10. After the End Zone Stomp game in 2007, he came back to win 49-10 and called late timeouts to make the Doggies stick around and take their beating a little longer.

Now, it's Muschamp's turn to answer.

There's a lot more on the line than that. But it's still an answer the Gator Nation needs to hear.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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