Guerry Clegg commentary on Georgia football: Bulldogs seek credibility against Florida Gators

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerOctober 24, 2011 

Larry Munson, Georgia’s beloved retired football announcer, might say, “It’s been a hundred thousand years since we beat Florida.”

Of course, we know the most famous team announcer in SEC history tended to let his heart exaggerate just a bit. Actually, it’s been only four years since the Bulldogs prevailed in Jacksonville. And if you want to put a positive Georgia spin on it, it’s really been only three years, 11 months and 28 days.

But who’s counting, right? Well, Gator Nation, and pretty much everybody who has written off the Dogs as a national contender.

Granted, a win by Georgia over this Florida team -- rebuilding with a new coaching staff, new offense and uncertainty at quarterback -- would not send the college football world into a state of shock. Even if John Brantley returns at quarterback for the Gators, there’s no tangible reason why the Dogs should not win.

Then again, it could be argued that they should have won last year, but they lost 34-31 in overtime. They absolutely should have made a game of it three years ago when they had Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green -- one of the greatest collections of skill players -- but lost 49-10.

That loss has been viewed in retrospect as the beginning of the Dogs’ downfall under Mark Richt. They went into that game 7-1 and 27-7 over their past 34 games. Beginning with that loss, the Dogs went 17-16, including an 0-2 start this season.

That loss in 2008 began a steady free fall from being among the national elite to being an afterthought.

A win Saturday could restore a good measure of the credibility that has been lost. That’s especially true if Brantley does play. It’s not so much that beating a struggling Florida team would be such an impressive feat. But it would remove the asterisk that has been hung on the Bulldogs since Steve Spurrier returned to Florida. Last year’s win was the Gators’ 18th out of 21 meetings. Most of the games haven’t even been close.

Georgia’s modest five-game winning streak since that 0-2 start has garnered little notice outside the SEC. That’s largely because of whom the Dogs have beaten during that stretch: Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. And, too often, they didn’t looked good doing it. They let Tennessee and Vandy hang dangerously close in games they physically were dominating for the most part.

But as much as Florida has struggled in losing three straight, the Gators still are significantly better than any team Georgia has played since South Carolina.

The winning streak, combined with the attrition of so many ranked teams, has landed the Dogs back in the national rankings. They edged up from a tie for 24th to 22nd in the Associated Press poll, 21st in the coaches poll. A win over Florida likely wouldn’t vault them into the top 15 right away. But a win Saturday would make possible a 10-2 regular season. That, along with some team -- maybe Arkansas or Florida -- beating South Carolina would put the Dogs back in the SEC Championship Game.

While not even the most optimistic Dog fan honestly could think Georgia stands much of a chance against the Alabama-LSU winner, a strong showing would be a credibility boost to carry into the offseason.

But a loss to Florida -- especially when the Gators might not be so beatable any time soon -- would rekindle all the speculation about Mark Richt’s dismissal.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Contact him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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