This is the part of the week I have been dreading. This is the part of the week in which I provide you with historical details and statistical minutiae, all with an eye toward providing you a measure of insight into the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming contest. I call this segment "Too Much Information," because, ordinarily, that is what I offer.
This time, though, I’m not sure what information I have to bring you that you don’t already know. I already brought you "The Feel Good Stat of the Week," and, frankly, that tapped out my last reserve of optimism. Accordingly, this is all the information I have to give you, and, I am afraid, all the information that matters:
You’re tired of hearing it. I’m tired of hearing it. It’s stupid, really, to segment the history of the series in such terms. That 21-season stretch, after all, included all or part of the tenures of three Georgia coaches and all of the tenures of three Florida coaches; a fourth such Gator skipper will be on the sidelines for this Saturday’s edition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Moreover, that 21-year period has had two distinct phases. From 1990 to 2000, the Florida Gators finished atop the SEC standings seven times, and represented the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship Game seven times, while the Red and Black finished with six or fewer wins five times. It was the best of (pre-Urban Meyer) times for the Sunshine State Saurians, and the worst of (post-Johnny Griffith) times for the Classic City Canines, and that reality is reflected in the fact that Georgia went 1-10 against Florida during that period, with six of those losses being by more than 30 points. The Gators were just better, period.
Following a transitional year in 2001---Mark Richt’s first in Athens, and Steve Spurrier’s last in Gainesville---the two programs’ stories have been quite different from what came before, and quite similar to one another’s. From 2002 to 2010, the Bulldogs made three SEC Championship Game appearances, winning two of them, and the Gators made three SEC Championship Game appearances, winning two of them. The comparable caliber of the two teams was reflected in the results in Jacksonville, as six of those nine series meetings were decided by margins of three (2003 and 2010), four (2005), or seven points (2002, 2004, and 2006) . . . yet still the Athenians went 2-7 against the Orange and Blue during that stretch.
These are equally strong programs---at the end of the day, Georgia may even be out-recruiting Florida, at least in post-attrition terms---but something is preventing the ‘Dawgs from clearing the hurdle of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, to the point that Bulldog fans feel the need to formulate false (albeit humorous) histories just to cope. It’s maddening. It’s inexplicable (or maybe not). It’s unfathomable. And yet, it’s there, it’s unmistakable, and it is what it is.
What it is, is 3-18.
I am 42 years old. Between the day of my birth and the year I celebrated my 21st birthday, the Georgia Bulldogs went 16-5-1 against the Florida Gators; six days after I emerged from the womb, the Red and Black trounced the Orange and Blue in Jacksonville by a 51-0 margin en route to a second SEC title in a three-year span. I was born, and grew to adulthood, in a world in which Georgia beating Florida simply was to be expected, an immutable fact of the natural order, like the seasons changing or the sun rising. The certainty of victory, whether in a lopsided beatdown or through thrilling eleventh-hour heroics, was every bit as entrenched, and every bit as warranted, then, as the certainty of defeat is today.
For that reason, I spent much of the 1990s believing what we were seeing in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was a mere aberration, a bizarre anomaly that we later would look back on as a temporary oddity, as baffling and surreal as the idea that Jimmy Carter was ever the president of the United States. As the decade dragged along and the outcomes were not altered, however, I came to accept the depressing reality. In the second 21 of my 42 years, the Bulldogs have gone 3-18 against the Gators.
3-18 is the reality of our lives until, finally, it isn’t. I entered the week hopeful, recognizing that all trends must end, but, ultimately, I have come to view this merely as wishful thinking, born of the fervent desire that I’m not going to have to put up with this crap for the next 21 years, until I’m 63 and even more crotchety and embittered by this nonsense.
Should Georgia win this game? Yeah, probably, but Georgia should’ve won last year’s game under virtually identical circumstances, as well. Meanwhile, despite discouragingly encouraging early reports, none of the pertinent news that has arrived at our doorstep in the last two weeks has been promising. Kwame Geathers and Shawn Williams are suspended. John Brantley is probable. Malcolm Mitchell is doubtful. Aaron Murray spent his idle Saturday unwisely. In a series as hallmarked by bad luck for the Bulldogs as this one has been for two decades, those aren’t indicators, they’re omens. Every portent signals doom, and the lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival run through all of our minds. Don’t go ‘round tonight, ‘cause it’s bound to take your life. There’s a bad moon on the rise.
I predicted another 34-31 overtime setback on two podcasts this week, but I have grown more dour with each passing hour, secure in the knowledge that shows of confidence prior to neutral-site games against orange-and-blue-clad opponents we once owned are merely expressions of hubris, the characteristic displayed in the first acts of Greek plays whose second acts end unhappily.
The closer we get to kickoff, the more convinced I get that we don’t just lose, we lose badly. Yeah, the Gators have lost three in a row . . . to the top two teams in the country and the defending national champions, with two of those games being played on the road and all of those games being played at least partly without their starting quarterback. We’re a marginal top 25 outfit at best, Brantley is back, the game is at a neutral site at which Florida fans will be holding half the tickets, and the Sunshine State Saurians are coming off of an open date. (Sure, we are, too, but how much good did that do us last time?)
Maybe the hiring of a University of Georgia alumnus in Gainesville will mark as stark a sea change in the course of the rivalry in 2011 as the hiring of a University of Florida alumnus in Gainesville did in 1990, but, at this stage of the game, 21 years and half my life removed from the era in which the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was anything other than the World’s Largest Outdoor Wake, I’m all out of hope. Like doubting Thomas, I will need to see it before I believe it, and, I’m sorry, but this one has "Gator blowout" written all over it. I hope I’m wrong, and that all of you get to come back here afterward and say, "I told you so," but I’m calling it like I see it, and I see it as a bloodletting.
My Prediction: Florida 42, Georgia 13.