There’s always going to be something special about the Florida-Georgia rivalry, mostly because of the neutral-site setting in Jacksonville and a weekend of fun and frivolity for both fan bases all weekend.

But it really gets ratcheted up a notch when both teams are really good and the stakes are high. That’s certainly the case this year when No. 7 Georgia takes on No. 9 Florida, with the SEC East title likely going to the winner. This one should be special.

Both teams are 6-1 overall, and 4-1 in the SEC, tied with Kentucky for the top spot in the division. It’s the first time since 2008 that both teams were ranked in the top-9 for this game, and you’ve got to go all the way back to 1983 before that to find another top-9 matchup. So this is rare, and this is unique.

It’s also very different from a year ago, when the Bulldogs, then ranked No. 3, smashed unranked Florida 42-7. It’s been interesting — laughable, really — to hear Florida players talk this weekend that the score didn’t tell the whole story about that game, but it really did. Florida never had a chance.

A year ago, Georgia gashed Florida for 292 rushing yards in the blowout win, with Sony Michel leading the way with 137 yards and two scores. The running game was so dominant that Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm only needed to throw the ball 7 times. He completed 4 passes for 101 yards, which was plenty.

That win was more about ground-and-pound, and wearing down the overmatched Gators. It worked to perfection.

But Florida is a different team under first-year coach Dan Mullen. The Gators have just one loss (Kentucky) and beat LSU, the same team that turned around and beat Georgia. They’re talking big in Gainesville, thinking they are on the same level now with Georgia.

But are they?


Despite the LSU results for both teams, it’s hard to see that. Georgia, a 7.5-point favorite Saturday, is still the better team. And winning Saturday could be as simple as implementing the same formula as last year, lining up and pounding the ball against Florida’s defensive front.

Can it still work? Of course it can.

In 2018, Florida is ranked No. 73 out of 129 college football teams in rushing defense, giving up 163.1 yards per game. That ranks 11th in the SEC, with only South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss behind them.

They’ve also had trouble getting off the field, ranking only 41st in third-down defense. The Gators are allowing conversions on third down 35 percent of the time. (Georgia is 13th at 30.3 percent)

Georgia has run the ball well this season, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, their same total as a year ago. It’s been different, though, with Michel and Nick Chubb gone. We expected big things from D’Andre Swift after some magical moments as a freshman, but he hasn’t been 100 percent healthy and has just 362 yards so far. Elijah Holyfield, the hard-running junior, actually leads the way with 488 yards.

But the back-by-committee approach has worked. Holyfield, Swift, Brian Herrien and freshman James Cook are all averaging more than 5 yards per carry. There’s no reason to expect that can’t continue against the Gators.

There is respect for Florida, certainly. But there are expectations as well.

“Across the board they’ve got really good football players, Florida always has,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “So their turnaround hasn’t come as a shock to me because Dan and his staff do a great job. I’m not surprised at all, they’ve got talent.

“They’ve got good football players. They had good football players last year.”

So does 42-7 mean anything? Not really. It was a year ago, and that doesn’t really carry over. The only residue might be if Georgia can jump out to a quick lead again. That might remind Florida defenders about the 21-0 first-quarter hole they were in last year.

History doesn’t mean much, but recent results really don’t either. Florida’s win over LSU, combined with Georgia’s loss to the same LSU team a week later, doesn’t really count for much Saturday. This is a whole new ballgame.

“The most important thing you do is make sure the previous game doesn’t affect the next game, whether it’s a loss or a big win,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “You could make arguments that there’s advantages and disadvantages to both. The most important thing is to put that one behind you, and you start focusing on the next one and don’t let either your success or failure the previous week affect you the following week.”