Georgia and Florida, the two teams which will once again battle at the top of the SEC East this year — barring a remarkable turn of events — probably don’t enjoy the notion that they have something in common.
By Matt Zemek
This is the natural product of their fierce rivalry, but it is also an extension of the two current coaches and the programs’ respective histories.
Georgia, molded in the image of Kirby Smart, is very different from what Dan Mullen wants Florida to become. The Dawgs practice “Old Man Football” and love shoving an opponent’s face into the dirt with physical superiority. It’s the way Smart likes to play, and it’s the way the program has flourished under his guidance. Moreover, it is the way Georgia thrived under Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker in the early 1980s, the program’s last especially dominant period before Kirby Smart arrived. (Mark Richt had his moments from 2002 through 2007, but Georgia was never as imposing in those years as it was in the early 1980s or the past three seasons.)
At Florida, winning wasn’t taken for granted through the 1980s. Then came Steve Spurrier, a favorite son who won the Heisman Trophy with the Gators in 1966 and came home because “Mama” called. He immediately turned Florida into a winner, the kind of program the Gators had never been before. What was just as important as the winning, however, was the slick creativity of Spurrier’s offensive design and the situational timeliness of his play calls. Florida fans entered into a whole new football experience with Spurrier. Winning was valued, but cleverness equally so.
Translated: Florida fans demand that their victories and achievements be accompanied by style points.
Florida and Georgia fans both crave winning as any other fan base would, but the aesthetics of the two programs are very different. These schools would not be comfortable admitting they had something important in common (besides the obvious: wanting to win the SEC East every year).
Yet, entering the 2020 season, UF and UGA now own a strong point of commonality which will have a lot to do with their fortunes this fall (assuming a full season is played).
Georgia learned on Wednesday that quarterback Jamie Newman, a transfer from Wake Forest who was expected to become the team’s starter in 2020, opted out of the season. USC transfer J.T. Daniels probably has the inside track for the starting nod as a result, but D’Wan Mathis will be in the mix as well. Regardless of whether Daniels or Mathis becomes the regular starter, Georgia now lives in a world where its 2020 starting quarterback will not be a player it had expected to attain the position at this point. This builds intrigue — and uncertainty — for UGA’s upcoming campaign.
Florida can relate.
Yes, Kyle Trask played a lot in 2019, so if one wants to nitpick around the edges of this discussion, one can mention that Trask was obviously expected to be the Opening Day starter when the 2019 season ended. Georgia is not facing that same situation. However, on a broader level, it remains true that when Kyle Trask entered Gainesville, his ascension to the QB1 spot was not seen as a likely occurrence.
Feleipe Franks was supposed to quarterback the team in 2019, but he got hurt early in the season. Dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones figured to be a significant obstacle for Trask even after Franks’s injury; this was not an expected line of succession under center at UF.
Yet, Trask managed to guide Florida past Kentucky in relief of Franks. He never looked back.
He wasn’t dominant in 2019, but he played far better than expected against eventual national champion LSU. He managed a win over Auburn. Months later, he was an Orange Bowl champion for a team which did noticeably well under very imperfect circumstances. It’s a remarkable plot twist few anticipated.
Florida-Georgia, in 2020, could have been Emory Jones versus Jamie Newman. It might instead become Kyle Trask versus J.T. Daniels… if no one gets hurt until the Cocktail Party occurs.
Florida and Georgia don’t want to have much of anything in common. Yet, as the SEC season approaches, they do… like it or not.