Psychology, narratives and expectations: will 4-15 matter?

Over at Saurian Sagacity, Mergz takes a look at the Georgia-Florida series – more specifically, at each fan base’s attempts to define the ebb and flow of the series.

… When it comes to something that should be as obvious as a win-loss record, it is apparent nothing is obvious when the Gators and Dawgs are involved.

But I have to give coach Richt, and Georgia fans, credit for finally trying to change the narrative of this series. The “2 of the past 4” meme is taking hold on Georgia Blogs and message boards, and it seems to be gaining traction. And it shows a definite change in their thinking.

As a Florida fan, I can admit the previous narrative regarding the series record was, well – somewhat artificial. But Georgia fans bought it, and that was all that mattered.

I’m not sure what we “bought”.  2-15 is, after all, 2-15.  And whether we like admitting it or not, there was a funky miasma around the games during that stretch.  It didn’t seem to matter who was coaching Georgia, who was coaching Florida (the Zooker is still 2-1 against Richt), who put more talent on the field or which team had more at stake, the result the vast majority of the time was the same.

But let’s face it:  towering over this retrospective is one Steven Orr Spurrier.  The Dawgs were 1-11 against Spurrier-coached Gator teams.  Since Spurrier’s departure for greener pastures, here’s how the two programs have fared overall (courtesy of Middle Dawg @ DawgRun.com message board):

Georgia’s record:

2002 13-1 (SEC Champs) (#3 AP/Coaches Polls)
2003 11-3 (SECCG) (#6 Final Polls)
2004 10-2 (Lost Tiebreaker for Atlanta) (#7 Final Polls)
2005 10-3 SEC Champs (#10 AP/Coaches Polls)
2006 9-4 (#23 Final AP Polls)
2007 11-2 (Lost Tiebreaker for Atlanta) #2/#3 Final AP/Coaches Polls

Florida’s record:

2002 8-5 (#24 Coaches Poll)
2003 8-5 (#24/#25 AP/Coaches Polls)
2004 7-5 (#25 Coaches)
2005 9-3 (#12/#16 AP/Coaches Polls)
2006 13-1 (SEC/National Champs)
2007 9-4 (#13/#16 AP/Coaches Polls)

Cumulatively speaking that’s 64-15 vs. 54-23.  Georgia finished with a better record in five of those six seasons.  Georgia has five top ten finishes in that time; Florida has one.  Georgia has three SECCG appearances, with two titles, to Florida’s one (to be fair, that one comes with a MNC).

Yet, head to head in that period, it’s Florida 4, Georgia 2.  Now, granted and as sad as it may seem, that’s a huge step up from the record during the Spurrier era, but it’s not exactly what you’d expect given the overall accomplishments of the two programs in the last six seasons.  So how to explain the disparity?

Keep in mind in considering that question that it’s not just a disparity of results in the WLOCP I’m referring to here; there’s a disparity of perception about the programs, as well.  Just ask Stewart Mandel and his friends from Montana.  Or the members of the media covering the conference at Media Days who voted the Gators the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.

Because of that, I think this whole “three out of eighteen” versus “two out of the last four” debate has more merit on a wider basis than Mergz may be willing to credit.  It’s one thing to look at a given meeting between these two schools and automatically chalk Florida up on the plus side, as the old mindset might very well dictate.  It’s another to look at the last four games that the Dawgs and Gators have played and contemplate that the series may be entering a new phase, with new givens.  Particularly in light of last year’s game – not because of The Celebration (surprise!), but because Georgia dominated a Florida team that for the first time in his tenure fully reflected the vision of Urban Meyer.

Which is why I find the “Tebow wasn’t 100%” line such a lame excuse (not that Mergz has ever made that argument).  First, how is it any different from what Georgia faced in the ’05 game with an injured Shockley?  More importantly, it’s part of the game, particularly the one Meyer has deliberately chosen to play by running an offense that risks so much physical contact to its quarterback.  It’s the hand that Meyer dealt; Georgia simply beat his flush with a full house last year.

So here we are today.  Both teams are highly regarded.  With a little bit of luck and perseverance, there’s a decent chance this year’s WLOCP may be the most hyped in the series’ history – which is saying a lot when you think about it.  I’m not making any predictions at present, but given the two schools’ track record since Spurrier’s departure, I do think that a Georgia win this year is likely to bring with it a reevaluation of the relative strengths of the two programs by their fans and the media.

As I’ve said before, because of that, it’s the biggest game the Dawgs and Gators have played since early in the Spurrier era.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Psychology, narratives and expectations: will 4-15 matter?

  1. Awesome post, Senator, superbly written and argued.

    Even as we were cracking open fresh beers and jumping around the house like idiots as the clock ticked down to 00:00 for last year’s Cocktail Party, I was thinking that the ’08 game, not ’07, would truly be a defining game in the series. Winning one game, yeah, that’s great, but it’s still too early to be saying stuff like “The Celebration changed everything” or that there’s going to be some kind of sea change in the rivalry.

    Win two in a row, though, for the first time since Dooley’s last two years — and, as you alluded to, against teams that fully reflect the system with which Urban Meyer has been trying to conquer the SEC — and I think that really is going to signal a new era, maybe in a way that even Gator fans won’t be able to deny.

    I was telling a UF-alum co-worker of mine the other day that while I can’t speak for all Dawg fans, I don’t demand that Georgia go on a 15-2 streak of their own against Florida; I’d simply be happy if it settled into some kind of 50-50 (OK, maybe 60-40) equilibrium. If Georgia can win this year and get things moving back in that kind of direction, nobody will be happier about than I’ll be.

  2. First I admit that my original post was a bit snarky with the whole “Georgia fans buying it” meme. However, the 15-2 streak did allow Florida fans to finally bury the longstanding Georgia retort to our 90′s success, which was “look at the overall record”. I think that was finally put to rest in the late 90′s when some Dawg fan used it on me, and I responded with “Well that’s true, for now, but what if you never win again?” The look of prospective horror on his face said it all. And when you get a streak of 15-2, the “overall” record starts to seem rather irrelevant.

    Of course Georgia has won again since my taunt, and most convincingly last year. What I take issue with in this whole “choosing” of streaks is the very, very convenient, and on examination wholly artificial, 2 of the last 4 measurement. Because one of those wins – the first one – came against a coach who had just found out less than a week ago that he had been fired. I think it a rather cheap choice of a “turning point” in a series to use only a single one of Zook’s games – his worst at that – in some sort of streak argument. To be consistent, you either take all of Zook’s and Meyer’s games, or only Meyer’s games, but you don’t choose a single Zook game to start. If we are going to parse Zook games, why not 2 of the last 5 then? Or, why not take Richt’s overall record against Florida? (2 of 7).

    In the end, it does show a resurgence in at least the thinking about the contest by Georgia fans (and coaches, as Richt has mentioned the 2 of 4 himself). Thinking positively about a situation is certainly part of the battle, and the “2 of 4″, despite it’s mere fifty-percentness, is exactly that. It says, in essense, that we are at least even with these guys. And it sets up a “winning” record possiblity with this year.

    Lastly, as you mentioned, I don’t remotely buy the “Tebow wasn’t 100%” nonsense. We were dominated on defense, and anyone who watched that first drive and its 9 consecutive running plays knows it. And it concerns me greatly that our coaches might believe it, because if we don’t address our defense, Georgia will be among the least of our worries.

    The ultimate irony of the Meyer era might be that the MNC he won was accomplished not by his hallmark Spread, but by the Gator’s outstanding 2006 defense.

  3. dean

    First let me second Doug’s first sentence. The main reason I visit you blog most everyday is to gain a little more perspective on topics such as this.

    Second, while I don’t like mentioning the “streak” I don’t disregard it either. It’s a run that you don’t see in many “true” rivalry games. With that said all streaks come to an end, eventually.

    I agree with you that it appears we are entering a new phase in this rivalry and a win this year will go a long way in redefining this rivalry to the media, fans and college football nation. However I personally think the celebration helped us get over the mental hurdle we’d been stumbling over the past 18 games or so. Because most years when UF came back and took the lead it would have been another one of those “here we go again” games. But the Dawgs didn’t quit. They bowed up (for lack of a better cliche) and flat out won the game.

  4. peacedog

    Mergz, saying it’s “2-2″ or something is sort of making the point: namely that picking and chosing the streak boundaries is somewhat absurd, just like “15-2″ was absurd. It was less absurd for a time – decades and coaching regimes are pretty “natural” boundaries for these sorts of things, but Spurrier left. UGA was spooked, there is no question, and it lost some games it probably shouldn’t have. I’ve encounter plenty of UF fans, though, who acted like UF had some sort of magical hold over UGA, which wasn’t really true (and dealt with the same thing with some Tennessee fans back in the 90s). And that the streak was somehow defining.

    Granted, if UGA went 8-2 in the next 10 games, there would be plenty of UGA fans acting the same way, which is equally absurd – I don’t say any of this to criticize Florida fans in particular. We would see this in any number of rivalries in college football that went on streaks, I think (you see it in some UGA fans regarding Tech, to be sure. Just not all of them, like Mark Bradley says).

  5. JM

    In all this talk about the streak, why does no one ever mention the 2 weeks off FL had prior to the GA game.
    If I remember correctly there was a stretch of several years were the league gave FL 2 weeks to prep. I wonder what the record would be if we had 2 weeks to prep for the next 8-10 years. Just a thought.

  6. Hobnail_Boot

    I really wish DJ hadn’t gotten hurt vs. Arkansas.

  7. Hey to Goober

    JM … “the league” didn’t give Florida two weeks off prior to the game, UF’s athletic department scheduled their season that way.

    Your observation that there is a correlation between an open week prior to the game and victory, however is worth noting. Unfortunately, that bodes poorly for us this year as UF has a week off while we play LSU in Baton Rouge.

    I suspect the media took this into consideration when selecting Florida to win the SEC East.

  8. HTG – Florida doesn’t have a week off before the WLOCP. The Gators play Kentucky.

  9. Sam

    First of all, Florida does not have a bye week before UGA this year, but it is always a HUGE factor that time of year. (I think UF is 12-2 with a bye week before UGA, but I am relying on memory so you may have to look it up.)

    I have always taken exactly the same position CMR is taking now, either look at the series as a whole, or look at the most recent trend. You cannot take a slice from a series record at your discretion, although many UGA fans allowed that to happen from Florida trash talkers.

    It is really silly for either to use records to belittle the other. UGA has a commanding lead in the series, and UF dominated the 90′s, but does that REALLY mean neiter side respects the other as a worthy opponent? Do they not recognize this as a game that could go either way and impact their hopes for a title? (Even UGA fans with a huge overall series lead, and currently riding a long unbeaten streak still will approach Thanksgiving weekend with some trepidation…despite large talent differences that are not true in the UGA/UF comparison.)

    Bottomline, this is a great series and one of CFB’s best traditions. You have to wonder why anyone would want to denigrate it by acting otherwise. By diminishing your opponent, you cheapen the value of your accomplishment. Everyone should accept that both are top programs, the games are usually competitive, and Florida has made up ground since the 90′s to make the overall series closer. Fans of each should feel confident in their team, but shouldn’t act like street trash by feeling the need to attack the other. Enjoy the special treat that is Jacksonville in mid-fall. And SEC office, don’t allow either to have a bye week advantage without reciprocating the other way soon after. The game should be played on equal terms and allow the best team to prevail.

  10. Ally

    That is honestly the best post you’ve ever written. Amazing.

    Only one 10 win season since 2001 and they have the superior program with superior coaching & superior athletes??? Lol!

    And that’s why Jim Rome’s a moron, folks.