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In Florida-Georgia rivalry, players are aware of the upset history

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.

FAST FACTS

Biggest upsets in Florida-Georgia history

With records and Associated Press rankings for each team entering the game:

Nov. 7, 1964

Florida: 5-1, 4-0, No. 9

Georgia: 4-2-1, 2-1, unranked

Result: Georgia won 14-7 to knock Florida out of the conference race in Vince Dooley's first year as Georgia coach.

Nov. 5, 1966

Florida: 7-0, 4-0, No. 7

Georgia: 6-1, 3-0, unranked

Result: Led by QB Steve Spurrier, this was, at the time, Florida's best team ever. But Georgia's 27-10 win denied UF from clinching a share of its first SEC title.

Nov. 9, 1974

Florida: 7-1, 3-1, No. 6

Georgia: 5-3, 3-1, unranked

Result: Florida had accepted a Sugar Bowl invitation. A win would have clinched its first SEC title. The Bulldogs won 17-16, and the Gators lost two of their next three to finish 8-4.

Nov. 8, 1975

Florida: 7-1, 4-0, No. 11

Georgia: 6-2, 3-1, unranked

Result: The Gators needed a win to clinch a share of its first SEC title. Instead, they lost 10-7, finished second to Alabama and lost 13-0 to Maryland in the Gator Bowl to end the season at 9-3.

Nov. 6, 1976

Florida: 6-1, 4-0, No. 10

Georgia: 7-1, 3-1, No. 7

Result: Both entered among the Top 10 for the first time in series history, and a victory would give the Gators their first SEC title. Instead, Georgia won the conference (for the third time under Vince Dooley) by beating Florida 41-27 and winning 28-0 at Auburn a week later. The Gators could have earned a share of the title but lost 28-9 at Kentucky a week later.

Nov. 9, 1985

Florida: 7-0-1, 4-0, No. 1

Georgia: 6-1-1, 2-1-1, No. 17

Result: Florida was No. 1 for the first time but despite Kerwin Bell going 33-of-49 for 408 yards, it lost 24-3. UGA ran for 344 yards, including 145 by Keith Henderson and 104 by Tim Worley. It was the last win over UF for coach Vince Dooley, who retired in 1989, much to the joy of Gator fans.

Nov. 2, 2002

Florida: 5-3, 3-1, unranked

Georgia: 8-0, 5-0, No. 5

Result: UF lost WR Taylor Jacobs to injury on the first series. But Kelvin Kight (nine catches, 115 yards) and Carlos Perez (12, 115) led the Gators to a 20-13 win. Georgia went on to beat Arkansas in the SEC title game.

Antonya English,

Times staff writer

In Florida-Georgia rivalry, players are aware of the upset history 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 11:10pm]
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