I've gone on record on this site more than once saying that this is the football game about which I care about most. I can't help it. It would certainly be better for my mental health if I could care less about the outcome of the Georgia/Florida game. But as a Bulldog fan who entered college in 1996, left in 2000, grew up well south of the Fall Line and still spends a good bit of time in places like Metter, Tifton and Albany, this one really matters to me. It always will.
This year's WLOCP will however have effects on things other than my psyche. Georgia's division title hopes, Mark Richt's job security, and Aaron Murray's legacy in the Classic City are but a few of the things on the line.
Another is the direction of Bulldog recruiting. To be sure, recruiting is inextricably linked to the broader condition of the program. But this game has some specific implications for the kind of class Georgia can bring in this coming Signing Day, and thereafter.
For starters, there are some specific recruits who Georgia still needs to convince not to go to Gainesville. Among them is the nation's top offensive line prospect, Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil recently said Georgia and Alabama are his clear top 2 teams. However, Florida hasn't stopped pursuing the Lake City standout. Their pitch would be a lot easier if Will Muschamp can sell him that Florida is back on top in the East, or at least that Georgia isn't.
A Bulldog win would also go a long way toward allowing the Bulldogs to climb back into things with some recruits who may be becoming disaffected with some other programs. There are at least a couple of recruits still committed to the flaming wreckage of Auburn football who our coaches would still love to have in Athens, for example. This is about the time of year when some players begin to reassess the verbal commitments they gave over the summer. That works both ways. We do not want to be in the business of convincing current commits that our staff is secure and that we really, really can get to the next level as a program. We want to be in the business of fielding calls from players who are wondering if there's still room for them.
Finally, and this is perhaps most critical, beating the Gators in Jacksonville for a second year in a row would go a long way toward avoiding any of the hot seat/can't win a championship talk that really hurt the Bulldogs 2012 class. Most of the bluechippers in that class were making their decisions during the 2010 season and the summer that followed it. Many of the best of them all but admitted that they crossed Georgia off their lists because of uncertainty surrounding Mark Richt's job.
Let's be honest. If Georgia finishes by beating Ole Miss, Georgia Southern, Auburn and Georgia Tech, a loss to the Gators and 10-2 finish isn't getting Mark Richt fired. Nor should it. But it won't stop the talk from opposing recruiters. A post-game backlash from our own fans probably wouldn't help. Georgia is at an important moment in recruiting, a moment when we're fighting hard for some huge recruits like Dooly County's Montravious Adams, and former Banneker/current JUCO defensive tackle Toby Johnson. Not to mention that we're still shopping for a tailback for 2013. The November 3rd Homecoming game against Ole Miss is looking like a big recruiting weekend, and it will go a lot smoother if there's a good vibe coming off an upset of Florida which puts the 'Dawgs in the driver's seat in the East than if recruits are treated to a half-full Sanford Stadium crammed with boo birds.
Like I said, there's a lot on the line. The question is going to be how this Bulldog squad responds to the pressure. There will be a lot of eyes on this one waiting to find out the answer. Some of those eyes are attached to high school football recruits who really want to play in Athens. But the current Bulldogs have to convince them that it's the best decision.
Until later . . .