As part of an ongoing series for the spring and summer months, SEC Country offers a point/counterpoint breakdown of some of the SEC’s biggest games on the 2016 calendar — in terms of subjectively clarifying which program needs a victory more than the other.
Today’s must-win debate: SEC Country writers Jay Clemons and Knox Bardeen tackle the Florida vs. UGA clash on Oct. 29, with Clemons taking the Gators and Bardeen siding with the Dawgs.
For Clemons’ pro-UF breakdown, click here:
Handing a name to a college football rivalry game is as normal as Saturday inebriation on campus. But not every matchup of hated foes gets a moniker, and some — the “Iron Bowl” (Auburn vs. Alabama), the “Big Game” (Stanford vs. Cal), “The Game” (Ohio State vs. Michigan) are simply boring.
The true and powerful rivalry games have both history and great nicknames. Give credit to the “Bedlam Series” (Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State) and the “Red River Shootout” (Texas vs. Oklahoma) as unique and fantastic rivalries, but the Georgia-Florida game tops them all.
Started in 1915 and played continually (outside of a missed war-time contest in 1943) since 1926, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” not only has lasting power, but a great nickname too. It’s also been held in Jacksonville, Fla., for all but two years since 1933 — it’s a true neutral-site battle.
Outside of its name and battleground site, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” is important to both schools for football reasons too. Year in and year out, the winner not only owns bragging rights, but gets thrust into a powerful position in the SEC East.
The 2016 version of this matchup features two coaches who are relatively new to the rivalry. Florida’s Jim McElwain enjoyed his first cocktail party last year. This will be Kirby Smart’s first as front-man for Georgia. Even though the coaches are new, they know the importance of winning, and UGA needs this win in 2016 moreso than Florida.
Here are four reasons why Georgia must beat Florida in 2016:
1. Kirby Smart can’t waste time rebuilding UGA’s football program
Most coaches across the country are afforded some sort of leash when they take a new gig. Let’s face it … job openings happen after the former coach didn’t do fantastic work or he left for something better. In either case, the new guy gets leeway to build the program around his methods.
Smart won’t be given that option.
The Georgia football program has been mired in “almost there” status for many years. UGA pushed Mark Richt out the door, in no small part, because Smart was ready to leave Alabama and he was a highly sought-after target in Athens, as well as around the country.
Because of the winning ways he brings from Tuscaloosa, and the fact that UGA fans are starved for a title, Smart has to win and he has to do it in Year 1. He’s not in danger of losing his job, but if Smart doesn’t move this program forward immediately, he’ll never gain a stronghold with its fan base.
2. Smart’s opponent set the bar high
Another reason Smart won’t be given a long leash to rebuild … his cocktail-party opponent, McElwain, came to Florida and reached the SEC championship game with a team that wasn’t supposed to win and with very little quarterback help. If he can land in Gainesville and beat the Gators, Smart should have a better chance with his core fans.
3. Georgia must stop Florida’s dominance
In each of the last two matchups, Florida has come away victorious, and it hasn’t been close. The Gators blew out Georgia by 24 points last season and by 18 the year prior.
What’s even worse: Since 1990, UGA is 6-20 versus Florida. While the two schools can’t agree on how many times they’ve met (Florida says 93, UGA 94), both are on the same page with Georgia holding a slight advantage. By UGA figures, the Dawgs are 50-42-2 all-time in this rivalry game, which would look even better if not for most of the past 26 years.
4. The cocktail party is the gateway to the title game
With apologies to Tennessee, who many believe to be the SEC East cream of the crop in 2016, the Georgia-Florida rivalry game goes a long way towards deciding who represents the division in Atlanta each year.
Outside of three seasons (2002, 2003 and 2005) in the early 2000s, neither team has made it to the SEC championship game without winning this rivalry game. It’s not impossible to make it to the SEC title game without winning the cocktail party, but it sure does help.
There’s some real analytics to make this case too.
Florida ranks first in the conference in SEC championship game appearances while Georgia stands tied for third. These two teams go to that huge game a lot, and only three times in history has either made it there without winning in Jacksonville.
This game is of vital importance.