GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) ”The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has been a sobering experience for favorites over the years.
With a dozen upsets in the last four decades, the Southeastern Conference series between Florida and Georgia has become one of college football’s most unpredictable rivalries.
The third-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 SEC) and Gators (3-3, 3-2) don’t even have to delve too deep into their history to realize anything can – and often does – happen in nearby Jacksonville.
”I hope they feel comfortable about this game,” Florida linebacker David Reese said. ”I hope they feel like it’s to their advantage. It’s their game to lose, really.”
Even though the Gators have won three in a row and 21 of the last 27 meetings, they are two-touchdown underdogs heading into Saturday’s game. In this series, that’s hardly cause for concern.
”These are the games we were made for,” Florida defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. ”I feel like we play harder in big-situation games against higher ranked teams or whatnot.”
In the last 33 meetings between the SEC East heavyweights, the Cocktail Party has seen an unranked or lower-ranked team beat a ranked team 12 times. Half of those upsets happened this century.
There has been a top-ranked team go down (Florida in 1985) and four more top-five teams falter (Georgia in 2002, 2003 and 2005; and Florida in 2012). Equally telling: Top-10 teams are a mediocre 16-12 in the series.
”At the end of the day, it boils down to players, guys making plays, not turning the ball over, how you respond to a little adversity,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who played in the rivalry in the late 1990s. ”In this game, it’s traditionally been a seesaw-type game.”
No doubt. Here are some of the more stunning outcomes:
2014: Florida 38, No. 9 Georgia 20
Double-digit underdog Florida ran for an astounding 418 yards and five touchdowns, giving embattled coach Will Muschamp his first victory in the series as a player or coach.
2012: No. 12 Georgia 17, No. 3 Florida 9
The Bulldogs used six turnovers, including one at the 5-yard line in the final minutes, to hand the Gators their only loss and knock them out of the national title hunt.
2007: No. 20 Georgia 42, No. 9 Florida 30
This one gave the rivalry a jolt of energy. Having lost 15 of the previous 17 games, Georgia coach Mark Richt ordered his team to get a celebration penalty following its first touchdown. The Bulldogs – all of them – stormed the end zone following Knowshon Moreno’s 1-yard run and infuriated Florida for years.
2005: No. 16 Florida 14, No. 4 Georgia 10
First-year Florida coach Urban Meyer tweaked his offense during the bye week to better use Chris Leak, who threw touchdown passes on the first two possessions. The Gators held on from there and handed Georgia its first loss of the season.
2003: No. 23 Florida 16, No. 5 Georgia 13
The Gators made it six in a row with Matt Leach’s 33-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining. Georgia finished with 202 yards on the ground, one of the few times in the series that the team with more rushing yards lost.
2002: Florida 20, No. 5 Georgia 13
Georgia looked like legitimate national title contenders until unraveling against Ron Zook’s unranked Gators. Florida trailed 13-12 in the fourth when Rex Grossman capped an 89-yard drive with a TD pass to Ben Troupe.
1997: No. 14 Georgia 37, No. 6 Florida 17
The Bulldogs ended seven years of frustration against Florida thanks to four touchdown runs from Robert Edwards. Georgia knocked the defending national champion Gators out of the division race.
1992: No. 20 Florida 26, No. 7 Georgia 24
Steve Spurrier’s favorite win against his most hated team. The Head Ball Coach had two freshmen offensive tackles and two losses in league play, but managed to knock off Georgia and get back in the division race.
1985: No. 17 Georgia 24, No. 1 Florida 3
After winning at Auburn the previous week, the Gators landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and earned the program’s first No. 1 ranking. It was short-lived. Georgia dominated behind running backs Tim Worley and Keith Henderson. Fans tore down the Gator Bowl goal posts, the only time that’s happened in the series.
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