This is part of our series ranking Georgia's most important games in 2012, beginning with the least important, and continuing on to No. 1.
The criteria for ranking the games follows this basic criteria: Their role in shaping the ultimate success (or not) of the season, but with consideration given to rivalry, context of season, and caliber of opponent.
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No. 5 was Georgia Tech.
No. 4 was Auburn
Next up is a game that occasionally gets some attention from Georgia fans ...
3. VS. FLORIDA
LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in the SEC
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 9
WHEN: Oct. 27 (Georgia’s eighth game)
HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: This figures, as it often does, to be the turning point game for each team as far as its chances to win the division. Georgia, the favorite in many’s eyes to repeat as East champ, will be coming off the trip to Kentucky, and it will be three weeks after the showdown at South Carolina. (Florida is hosting the Gamecocks the week before playing Georgia.) If you’re a very optimistic Bulldog fan, your team is 7-0 entering Jacksonville; if you’re just somewhat optimistic, your team is 6-1 with a loss at South Carolina or Missouri, or 5-2 with losses to both. If Georgia is any worse than that, it’s pretty bad news, and the division hopes may already be gone, with the Florida game the only chance to salvage something. But the strongest likelihood for Georgia is that this game will be a chance to either remain in contention for the division, or to put a stranglehold on it.
LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: Very high, for reasons stated above, but also because … well, it’s Florida. This was the game last year where Mark Richt ultimately may have saved his job and earned his new contract. That’s not an issue now, but … it’s still Florida. Richt has never beaten Florida twice in a row – in fact no one at Georgia has since 1987-89. Should the Bulldogs make it two in a row, that will likely say a lot about what direction Georgia is going under Richt and Florida is going under Will Muschamp.
MORE ABOUT FLORIDA: There’s been some talk of Florida as a sleeper pick in the East, with Muschamp repeating the second-year success of the Urban Meyer regime. Problem is, there’s no Tim Tebow on the roster. There isn’t even a Chris Leak at the moment; Florida left spring practice still deciding between Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel at quarterback. Both have high upside, but can they win immediately? The offense also needs a breakaway talent, after the departures of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Receiver Andre Dubose is the closest thing to it at the moment. The hope on offense is that new coordinator Brent Pease brings some of the magic over from Boise State, after being hired to replace Charlie Weis. The Gators are hoping that Weis, for all his acumen, didn’t quite have his heart in it last year, while Pease will be innovative enough to jump-start the offense. The defense, meanwhile, has a lot of potential with the likes of DT Sharrif Floyd, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic, and safety Matt Elam.
WHO TO WATCH: Muschamp. It was a bit of a rough debut season for the Georgia graduate, who spent a lot of time protesting the officiating, but less time winning than Gators fans would have wanted. The transition was smoothed with some help by media members who threw dirt on the Meyer era, alluding to off-field problems and a supposed mess left by Meyer. Of course, now Meyer is at Ohio State, and if the Buckeyes win right away, and the Gators don’t reach double-figure wins, that won’t reflect well on Muschamp.
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Georgia found itself down 17-3, but came back thanks to near-identical fourth-down touchdown passes by Aaron Murray – both stupendous catches, by Michael Bennett and Tavarres King. The Bulldogs held on to win 24-20, earning just their fourth win in the rivalry since 1990.
THIS TIME: Years ago, when I left journalism school, I promised myself never to say “you throw the records away when such-and-such teams play.” I still won’t here, but this is as tempting as it gets. Yes, Georgia should be the favorite … but it’s Florida.