Georgia’s recent success against Florida has been a long time in coming. The Bulldogs had not beaten the Gators in back-to-back seasons in more than two decades, dating back to 1988-89. Florida has an 18-5 record over Georgia since 1990 so the rivalry has been mostly one-sided. But thanks to some recruiting success, Mark Richt has turned the annual showdown in Jacksonville, Fla., back into one of the most highly contested battles of the year.
And he did it with some ringers from the Sunshine State.
Quarterback Aaron Murray has struggled against the Gators but is 2-1 in his career against them. In his first win he completed four passes to tight end Orson Charles of Tampa, Fla. All-SEC kicker Blair Walsh, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., always said the Florida game was the biggest of the year and he scored 22 points against the Gators in his career. Keeping Murray upright this year was a freshman from Jacksonville, right tackle John Theus.
Just about every Bulldogs player who hails from Florida says that the Georgia-Florida rivalry is the biggest of the year. It makes sense, considering that when they return home for the holidays or spring break, they are sure to get an earful when Georgia loses. The pressure for top prospects to stay in-state is just at strong in Florida as it is in Georgia and those prospects that leave the borders are held up to special scrutiny. Thus, the Florida transplants take the game to heart.
For example, redshirt freshman Nathan Theus of Jacksonville, a long snapper at Georgia, tweeted after Georgia lost in the SEC championship game: “Proud to be a Dawg!!! This team never gives up. Our team. Our time. No regrets.... On a side note, I have yet to lose to UF.” Even after his team came up five yards short of playing for a national title, the Florida rivalry is not far from the minds of Theus and his other teammates.
For its part, Florida has the top recruiting class in the nation with 10 verbally committed prospects in the ESPN 150 and four more in the ESPN 300. The Gators are one of the hottest teams in the nation, ranked No. 3 and headed to the Sugar Bowl under second-year coach Will Muschamp. Florida has weathered the turmoil of losing Urban Meyer and appears poised to contend for SEC and national titles for years to come. This upward trend has caught the eye of a number Peach State standouts -- the Gators have eight players from Georgia on the roster and are looking to add at least three more.
The on-field rivalry is mirrored on the recruiting trail as well. Ten of the Bulldogs’ committed prospects were offered by Florida, while four of the Gators’ committed prospects hold Georgia offers. At least six of the remaining targets for each school have offers from both.
Georgia’s recruiting class is ranked 9th in the nation but many of its top targets have yet to decide. As it stands, Florida looks primed to reload and explode with its Class of 2013, coming in the heels of a 2012 class that was ranked 4th in the nation last year. The Bulldogs will need to close strong if they want to keep up with the Gators, but the prediction of an annual loss to the Gators is no longer warranted.