David Wunderlich has written a classic “Florida now is like Georgia used to be” piece.
During that long stretch of Gator dominance and even for a while after, the Florida-Georgia game wasn’t always about that day’s particular Florida-Georgia game for the partisans in red and black. They had to worry about if it was time to fire Ray Goff. Or Jim Donnan. Or Mark Richt, or at least one of his coordinators like Willie Martinez (yes) or Mike Bobo (no).
The tables turned after Meyer left Gainesville. Starting in 2011, Florida fans now wondered if it was time to fire Will Muschamp or at least one of his three offensive coordinators. Or Jim McElwain. UGA fans didn’t have completely smooth sailing once they started beating UF again, as they had more questions about whether it was time to fire Bobo (still no), Todd Grantham (after four years, yes), or Richt (eventually, yes). All that noise quieted down pretty quickly in the second half of the decade.
Last year’s Florida win was supposed to quiet things down in Gainesville. Everyone set it up during the offseason to be the Most Important Game in the Mullen Era, and the Gators passed the test with flying colors. Unfortunately, the quiet barely lasted more than a month.
Since that big win in Jacksonville, Florida has lost twice to severely shorthanded LSU teams, practically no-showed a bowl, and resolutely and determinedly stomped on a couple dozen rakes in a needless loss to Kentucky.
So where does that leave Gator fans tomorrow? Well, put it this way: as a Georgia fan, this sure sounds familiar.
All of that means that this year’s Cocktail Party can just be about the game itself. It’s about beating a hated rival and nothing more. That’s supposed to be enough for college football teams in such games, and it is for myriad programs that don’t ever have realistic shots at conference or national titles. We hate those guys over there, and so we’re going to try extra hard to beat them.
It’s not about positioning in the standings or rankings. It’s about bragging rights and getting the 1980 jokes off of life support.
It’s about us versus them, on this field, on this day. If Florida can focus on just that and play their best game, they do have a shot to win. It’s not a great shot, but they could pull it off. If so many big swings can go against them in the last season-and-a-half, maybe a big swing could go in their favor for once.
Good luck with that. On our end, that was good for about one upset a decade.