GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Like every other coach in the country, Florida’s Will Muschamp says every game carries equal importance.
The season opener against Toledo is just as significant as the regular-season finale against Florida State.
But whether he admits it or not, the Gators’ showdown against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 2 will be the biggest game of his three-year head coaching career.
Muschamp is 0-2 against Georgia, where he was a defensive back from 1991-94. UF didn’t play well in either game and last season’s loss cost the Gators the Eastern Division title and a potential berth in the national championship game.
Making things worse is the fact that the Gators had dominated the series from 1990-2010, winning 18 of the 21 meetings. Even Ron Zook went 2-1 against Georgia, and the game the Gators lost came just five days after Zook was fired. UF slept-walked through the first half and nearly rallied to tie the game but couldn’t get a final stop. The Bulldogs ran out the clock from there.
The last two games were similarly quirky. UF blew a 14-point first-half lead and lost 24-20 in 2011, and the Gators turned the ball over six times -- including two interceptions and two fumbles by quarterback Jeff Driskel -- in last season’s 17-9 loss.
UF’s players are reminded about that game every time they step into the football facility. There’s a sign that reads '17-9' placed there for motivation. It’s already revving the players up, and it’s more than three months before kickoff.
"It just reminds us that we got outscored, we got outplayed, we just basically got beat by Georgia," right guard Jon Halapio said. "We’ll definitely remember that when we play them again."
Muschamp has said the expectations for the Florida program are to win the Eastern Division and reach the SEC Championship Game every season. In order to do that, he’ll have to beat Georgia. Florida has won 10 Eastern Division titles and has beaten Georgia in each of those seasonw. The Gators have never won a division title in a season in which they’ve lost to the Bulldogs.
A victory this season would be a giant step toward reaching the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2009 -- and it would finally give Muschamp a victory in Jacksonville after five tries. His Georgia teams were 0-3 during his playing days (the 1994 game was played in Gainesville because of stadium renovations in preparation for the Jaguars’ inaugural season).
Muschamp, though, is only concerned with the last two games.
"I don’t really look at it that way," he said. "I think it’s really fair to get after me about being the head coach at the University of Florida and being 0-2 and not doing enough to win those two games and having opportunities in those situations. You give the other team credit. They did what they had to do to win the game. To bring my playing days into it is a little much.
"Unfortunately, Georgia’s playing with a lot better players than will Muschamp and [former Georgia defensive back and current Alabama defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart these days."
That’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Muschamp needs to win this season’s matchup or there’s going to a lot of grumbling.
"It’s a lot of pressure to win this year," Halapio said. "Last two years we haven’t beaten them so definitely this year more than any other year we want to beat them. Lot of pressure."