The annual Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville is promoted as one big party.
Just don’t be fooled by the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” banners. There’s plenty of animosity brewing under those tailgate tents between the fans of the two schools. The game is also plenty intense on the field, which is one reason it was one of my favorite events to cover for years.
This time, however, it should be lacking in drama by halftime.
Florida is struggling too much on offense to put up much of a challenge against a Georgia team that may very well be good enough to win the SEC this season.
And yet, somehow the Dawgs are only two touchdown favorites – perhaps because the oddsmakers are too aware that Florida has won the last three meetings.
None of that should matter come Saturday. I believe the Bulldogs will run away with this year’s game, possibly handing the Gators a shutout loss.
Just don’t expect either Georgia coach Kirby Smart or Florida coach Jim McElwain to talk much smack ahead of the kickoff. They’ll leave that to the fans. And yes, a few players.
Case in point:
“They might be the (No. 3) team in the country, but they can’t beat Florida,” said Gators receiver Josh Hammond
Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter dismissed Hammond’s comment.
“There’s going to be a lot of trash-talking out on the field too,” said Carter. “As long as we just keep playing football the way we’ve been doing, just keep playing physical and fast, all that stuff is going to take care of itself.”
Smart even used a little psychology on his players during a team meeting this week, asking anyone who has been on the winning side in this rivalry to stand up.
“It was sobering. I think with so much praise going on, on the outside, it was like, ‘Guys this is where we’re at. We haven’t beaten these guys,’” tight end Jeb Blazevich said.
Smart said the recent results against Florida won’t be a factor on Saturday.
“Teams are completely different, we are focused on the things we can control,” said Smart. “I don’t concern myself with that past.”
McElwain also prefers to keep his thoughts on his players.
“I would hope they’re confident,” he said. “We’ll find out on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Smart will stick with what’s been a winning formula for the Bulldogs: pound the football and dominate on defense. He will let freshman quarterback Jake Fromm pick his chances to look downfield off play-action opportunities.
“Be patient. Take what the defense gives you,” Smart said. “Play behind your own defense, your own special teams, protect the ball and just make good decisions.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Arkansas at Mississippi, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, SEC Network
Georgia vs. Florida, Saturday 2:30 p.m., CT, CBS
Vanderbilt at South Carolina, Saturday 3 p.m. CT, SEC Network
Missouri at Connecticut, Saturday 5:30 p.m. CT, CBS Sports Network
Mississippi State at Texas A&M, Saturday 6:35 p.m. CT, ESPN
Tennessee at Kentucky, Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network
- Alabama (8-0, 5-0):Last Week – W, Tennessee, 45-7. The Impact – A three-touchdown lead at the break wasn’t enough for Nick Saban even if he did get to play his backups most of second half. Tide had a 604-108 edge in yardage gained.
- Georgia (7-0, 4-0):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – One of eight unbeaten teams in polls, Bulldogs have lost last three encounters with Gators in World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. It’s been 35 years since the Bulldogs were still unbeaten after facing Florida.
- Auburn (6-2, 4-1):Last Week – at Arkansas, 52-20. The Impact – Tigers got back on track with surprising romp against Razorbacks with 345 rushing yards. Backup Kamryn Pettway rushed for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
- Mississippi State (5-2, 2-2): Last Week – W, Kentucky, 45-7. The Impact – QB Nick Fitzgerald ran for 115 yards to top 2,000 career rushing yards and also passed for 155, accounting for three touchdowns overall in rout of Wildcats.
- LSU (6-2, 3-1):Last Week – W, at Mississippi, 40-24. The Impact – Ed Orgeron has done great job rallying troops after stunning home loss to Troy, reeling off wins over Florida, Auburn and Mississippi. Derrius Guice rushed for 276 yards
6. Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1): Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Kevin Sumlin can become only fifth Aggies coach to win at least 50 games and would be one win from tying Jackie Sherril for fourth on list. Winner between Aggies and Mississippi State will become bowl eligible.
7. South Carolina (5-2, 3-2):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Gamecocks, who have beaten Vandy last eight meetings, can become bowl eligible with a win Saturday. They’ll also be pulling for Gators to upset Georgia to put SEC East title back into play next week. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream, right?
8. Florida (3-3, 3-2): Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Perhaps not wanting to be overshadowed by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s confrontation with a fan, UF’s Jim McElwain indicated he had received death threats. But after losing last two games by total of three points, he may have been just seeking extra sideline protection for Saturday’s game against Georgia.
9. Kentucky (5-2, 2-2):Last Week –L, at Mississippi State, 45-7. The Impact – Boasting what is supposed to be the 10th best rush defense, Wildcats were burned for 282 yards on ground by Bulldogs. UK had only 260 yards of total offense.
10. Tennessee (3-4, 0-4):Last Week – L, at Alabama, 45-7. The Impact – Vols ended steak of 12 quarters without a TD – but it was on a 97-yard interception return by Daniel Bituli off backup Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.
11. Missouri (2-5, 0-4):Last Week: W, Idaho, 68-21. The Impact – Mizzou scored 34 points in first quarter of rout of Idaho. Just think, if they were able to apply those points to last month’s Alabama game, they’d have only lost by 29.
12. Arkansas (2-5, 0-4):Last Week: L, Auburn, 52-20. The Impact – Bret Bielema’s squad has now lost five of six games and has surrendered an average of 47.5 points in its four SEC contests.
13. Mississippi (3-4, 1-3):Last Week: L, LSU, 40-24. The Impact – Shea Patterson, who leads SEC in passing with more than 2,200 yards, sprained right knee against LSU and was held to 116 yards. He was sacked three times and tossed three picks. Ole Miss has lost four of five games.
14. Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4): Last Week: Idle. The Impact – Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher, ran for 163 yards two weeks ago against Ole Miss and needs just 46 yards against Gamecocks to become SEC’s 11th best all-time rusher.
Predicted winners in Bold Caps
Arkansas at MISSISSIPPI
GEORGIA vs. Florida
Vanderbilt at SOUTH CAROLINA
MISSOURI at Connecticut
Mississippi State at TEXAS A&M
Tennessee at KENTUCKY
LAST WEEK: 5-0
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.