It would be so easy to look at Florida's and Georgia's seasons and assume the Gators are the favorite in today's rivalry game.
If only records and statistics were all that mattered.
No. 1 Florida (7-0, 5-0 SEC) can clinch the SEC East with a victory and a South Carolina loss tonight at Tennessee. Georgia (4-3, 3-2) is unranked and in the midst of a season coach Mark Richt characterized as very inconsistent.
Yet anyone who knows the history of "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" knows one thing: None of that matters when Florida and Georgia get together in Jacksonville.
Many times, one team entered with a not-so-stellar record only to derail the other's SEC (or national) championship hopes.
"I know my freshman year (2007), we … were supposed to blow them out," said Florida punter Chas Henry, a Georgia native. "Georgia was kind of down that year, and they beat us pretty handily (42-30).
"We have guys that come back and talk to us from old Florida teams all the time. And it's the same story: Georgia would be down or Florida would be down, and everyone would think the game's already wrapped up. And the other team comes out and plays hard and they win. It's one of those things. It doesn't matter the record coming into it."
More often than not, Florida has been on the unfortunate end. Georgia hopes to play the role of spoiler once again today, and it expects a battle.
"It's always going to be a heated rivalry when Georgia plays Florida," Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said.
"Georgia-Florida, there's no in-between. You are either a Gator or a Bulldog fan. They hate each other."
With so much history of heartbreak between the schools, players from both sides believe there's no chance today's game has lost any of its luster because of the struggles of Georgia, whose three losses are one shy of its most in eight previous seasons under Richt.
"When you're playing a rivalry game, it doesn't matter the record. It doesn't matter the stats. It doesn't matter where you're ranked," said Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who is playing his final college game in his hometown. "Everybody's … going to play their best in this game.
"It'll be exciting. It'll be passionate. It'll be hard-hitting. It'll be a tough game."
"I think no matter what the records are between the teams, it's always going to be an intense rivalry," Georgia quarterback Joe Cox said. "It was before I came to school here, and with things that have happened the past couple of years, it's probably bigger now than it's ever been."
The Bulldogs enter with a potentially slight advantage: rest. They had a bye last week.
"It's always nice to have a break, no doubt about it," Richt said. "You hope you can turn that into a positive for your football team, but there's just no guarantee of that."
What is a guarantee, the Gators say, is Georgia will play its best game of the season. That's the way it has been with every opponent this year, they say.
"I feel like every game we go into is going to be a championship-caliber game," defensive tackle Terron Sanders said. "Everybody is going to bring their best, and we've seen it. We've seen the best from everybody every week. We don't see it letting up any time soon."
Florida's past three wins have come by a combined 23 points.
And although it has won 16 of the past 19 meetings against Georgia, the series is only 3-2 in its favor over the past five years. That is why coach Urban Meyer has his team prepared to expect the unexpected.
"There's no caution going into this game," Meyer said. "Everybody knows exactly what it is."
An unpredictable rivalry.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3389. Read her Florida blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.