Be careful how you say it. In Fernandina Beach, it's Florida-Georgia. In Valdosta, it's Georgia-Florida. No matter how you phrase it, the annual grudge match between the Bulldogs and Gators (or Gators and Bulldogs) will be one of the defining storylines of the 2008 college football season. An SEC championship elimination game? A possible springboard towards a national championship?
That's only the beginning.
For one of college football's premier rivalries, the competition never stops. Georgia fans brag that they own the season series: 46-37-2. They talk of Herschel Walker and yell "Lindsay Scott, Lindsay Scott!".
Florida fans are quick to point out their Gators have won 15 of the last 18 meetings and experienced a two decade stretch of dominance. To that, Bulldog fans are quick to remind of their 17-out-of-20 run in the 30s, 40s and 50s or their 11-out-of-13 run in the 70s and 80s.
Florida fans taunt back with two recent national championship rings. Georgia fans bark about last year. Gator fans reply with "…it's about dang time". The debate never ends.
With the pre-season polls continuing to be released, one of the few constants has involved these two bitter rivals. Both teams have been virtual fixtures near, or at, the top of the national polls. A few prominent media members have identified Georgia, who may be the AP pre-season number one, as their national favorite. Along with schools like Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU and Southern Cal, both Georgia and Florida have been singled out as legitimate national championship contenders. Ironically enough, their pursuit of a title will likely go directly through each other.
As if the rivalry needed any more spice, it got it last season when the entire Bulldog football team marched into the endzone to celebrate the 'Dogs' opening drive touchdown. Whether it was a motivational idea from the coaching staff, a genuine response or a little of both, Georgia made a statement.
In a series in which they had been dominated for much of the last two decades, the Bulldogs showed a newfound swagger. They parlayed that moment into a 42-30 victory over the then defending national champion Gators, just their third since 1990.
The post-game controversy was what you might expect in a rivalry like this. Bulldog fans called the celebration brilliant and a needed confidence boost. Gator fans labeled the move arrogant and petty. These two can't even agree on where they want their games to be played; why would they agree here? There is no harmony in rivalries like this. The only accord between Bulldogs and Gators can be found in the parking lots outside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. Here’s a hint: it comes with power windows and seats.
After a rebuilding year of sorts for Urban Meyer standards, the Gators appear poised to make yet another run at a championship. Quarterback Tim Tebow returns for his second season as starter, one year after being the first sophomore in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy. Tebow scored a stunning 55 touchdowns and appeared to be simply unstoppable at times. Joining him in the offensive backfield this season will be USC-transfer and former five-star recruit Emmanuel Moody. If he performs as expected and receiver Percy Harvin mends, this Gator offense could be downright scary. A year older and wiser, a defense stockpiled with talent is expected to improve considerably.
The Georgia Bulldogs ended last season as perhaps the hottest team in college football. Mark Richt's bunch won six in a row to end the regular season, then humbled undefeated Hawaii by 31 points in the Sugar Bowl. The team was playing so well that national pundits were making an argument for the Bulldogs to be in the national title game – despite the fact they didn't even play in the SEC Championship Game. The telling part, was that much of the nation agreed. The return of perhaps the top backfield combination in the country in Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, along with a brutal defense that held Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Hawaii to a combined 40 points to finish the year, has expectations at an all-time high.
This year's BCS National Championship Game will be held on January 9th, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Both figuratively and literally, the drive to South Beach goes right through Jacksonville.