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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
A lot at stake in Cocktail Party Saturday

By Edward Aschoff

Saturday is very important to Florida coach Will Muschamp.

And, according to him, it has nothing to do with him facing his alma mater in a heated rivalry game.

Muschamp has tried to distance himself from the game and make it all about his team, but when the head coach at Florida once lined up for hated rival Georgia, there is no avoiding the subject.

Plus, Muschamp has such an interesting story behind it.

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier actually stood him up when he and his family drove down to Gainesville, where Muschamp spent some of the early years of his life, for a tryout. As Muschamp tells it, Spurrier played golf instead.

Will Muschamp
Will Muschamp's Gators come into Saturday's game against Georgia on a three-game losing streak.
So, Muschamp went on to star as a safety at Georgia in the early 1990s before going down the coaching path.

But Muschamp doesn’t want to hear about where he came from. He’s worried about getting his team on track after a three-game losing streak in which the Gators have been outscored 96-27.

“Wherever I played has no bearing on this game at all,” Muschamp said. “Every game is important. They’re all important games. It’s a SEC East opponent, it’s a big rival, it’s important to the University of Florida, so it’s important to me.

“This profession is different than a lot of professions. You do your job for the school that you’re working for. It’s my job to do a great job for the University of Florida, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t mean disrespect to anybody, but I’m loyal to people, not places.”

Florida is where he is and Georgia is his opponent, and this is huge one in Jacksonville, Fla. Intensity should be flowing when those team buses go over the Hart Bridge to greet one of college football's best venues. A Florida loss would eliminate the Gators in the East race. A loss for the Bulldogs would make it 19 losses to Florida in the last 22 tries and would destroy Georgia’s momentum from its five-game winning streak.

Muschamp insists he’s treating Georgia like any old opponent, but behind closed practice doors, that might not be the case.

“He’s the same ever week, but this week you could tell that he’s more fired up,” Florida defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. “He’s always yelling and screaming at us, but it’s 10 times more now.”

That could be because he’s anxious to make good on his promise earlier in the year that he would beat Georgia. It could also be because this game will make or break Florida’s season.

“We need a win for our program right now,” Howard said.

The significance of this game was felt during last week’s bye, when Howard said the Gators didn’t rest much. Sure, there were days off, but practice was fierce and Howard said it was the most physical bye week he’s ever had.

“It reminded me of two-a-days out there,” he said.

Georgia might not be fighting for its season Saturday, but this game means an awful lot to the Bulldogs as well. It means pressing forward in the East and winning the border war. Florida might be stumbling in, while Georgia is hot, but Bulldogs quarterback and Tampa native Aaron Murray said records mean nothing now.

“It’s Georgia-Florida. It doesn’t matter what the records are every year,” Murray said. “It doesn’t matter what team has a losing record and what team has a winning record, it’s going to be guys flying around trying to kill each other. It’s a heated rivalry.”

Winning would feel that much sweeter against Florida, but it would also keep Georgia on pace with South Carolina in the East. Georgia is tied at the top, but the Gamecocks own the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup.

"Our focus is the Eastern Division,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That's all we really have been thinking about, talking about and aspiring to win. We know this game could set us back, but it wouldn't bury us. With the way things are happening in our league it doesn't count us out. We know if we win it, it doesn't count us in.”

It would make things a lot easier going forward, though.

As for Florida, winning out is the only option if the Gators want to get back to Atlanta. Vanderbilt and South Carolina still loom, but the first order of business is beating Georgia. Without that, the season is sunk.