Even in rivals' down year, East still in play

ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite the insistence from both sides that this season's Georgia-Florida game still has meaning -- talk that has merit, considering the winner will remain an active competitor in the SEC East race -- Saturday's game does occupy an unglamorous spot in the rivalry's history.

This is a series in which national championships and conference titles are regularly in play for the Bulldogs and Gators when they travel to Jacksonville, Fla.

Just last season, Georgia's 17-9 win represented Florida's only defeat of the regular season, effectively knocking the Gators out of the SEC championship game. Instead, the Bulldogs faced eventual champ Alabama with a spot in the BCS title game at stake.

Fast forward a year and both teams are 4-3, decimated by injuries and unranked.

"There may be a lot of people across the country that aren't too interested in this one as much as they would have been maybe, but I know we are, and I know Florida will be, as well," Georgia coach Mark Richt said on his Monday evening call-in show. "We know what this game means. It means an awful lot regardless of the records."

This is the second time in the last four meetings that neither team is ranked -- the other was 2010 -- but that is highly unusual for this series. Before the 2010 game, at least one of the teams was ranked every year since 1979. And in the last 20 meetings, they were both ranked 10 times.

Even more telling is that both teams have lost their last two games: Georgia to Missouri and Vanderbilt and Florida to LSU and Missouri. According to ESPN Stats and Information, this is the first time since 1926 that Florida and Georgia will meet with both riding multiple-game losing streaks.

Nonetheless, Saturday's game represents a major opportunity for Georgia's senior class. At worst, they will finish their careers with a .500 record against the Gators, since Georgia carries a two-game series winning streak into Saturday. They can become Georgia's first senior class in their lifetime to post a winning record against Florida, as the last group that could make that claim was Georgia's 1990 senior class.

"Florida's always big. Every game's big," said senior defensive end Garrison Smith, who was born in 1991. "We've got our back against the wall, with all these guys we've got hurt, so we're just doing the best we can just to get any kind of win."

A win against a rival is always meaningful, but the Eastern Division is still in play for both teams, as well. Missouri (3-1 in SEC play, including wins against Georgia and Florida) could have all but clinched the division if it had held on to beat South Carolina (4-2) last Saturday. But by allowing the Gamecocks to come back from a 17-0 deficit for an overtime victory, Georgia or Florida (both 3-2) could win out and still possibly win the division if Missouri slips.

Richt said the Mizzou loss added some importance to Saturday's game -- although he doesn't seem to believe that it needed much of a spark.

"Missouri losing this past week opens the door for us to stay in this race for the East, and it opens the door for Florida to stay in the race for the East," Richt said. "So I don't think anybody's given up on that. I hope they haven't. I know I have not. That's why I came to Georgia is to win SEC championships, and so you've got to win the East first, and we're still in the race and this game is huge in that regard, as well.

"So we know how important it is, and even if we were mathematically out of the race for that Eastern Division championship, it's still a huge game. We all understand that."