(AP) – Todd Gurley won’t be suiting up, but Georgia is a big favorite to hand Florida another defeat Saturday.
The tide has definitely turned in this heated rivalry.
No. 9 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) will be going for a fourth straight win over the struggling Gators (3-3, 2-3) in Jacksonville, a game expected to push the Bulldogs another step closer to the league championship – and perhaps finish off embattled Florida coach Will Muschamp.
For the seniors in red and black, the idea of going through an entire college career without ever getting chomped is quite appealing.
”That would mean a lot,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera said Tuesday. ”We did something a lot of teams don’t do.”
The NCAA ruled Wednesday that Gurley must sit out until Nov. 15 – meaning he’ll miss this game and next week’s trip to Kentucky – for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period.
The school had applied for Gurley’s reinstatement after he missed the last two games while the school investigated allegations of improper benefits.
But the NCAA said that Gurley must complete a four-game suspension, or 30 percent of the season, for accepting cash from multiple individuals. He also must repay a portion of the money to a charity of his choice and complete 40 hours of community service in order to be reinstated for the Nov. 15 home game against No. 4 Auburn.
For now, though, the Bulldogs – ranked 11th in the initial College Football Playoff rankings – have to focus on their struggling rivals from Gainesville.
In a series of streaks, Georgia’s last four-game run over the Gators came in the 1980s. After Steve Spurrier took over in Gainesville in 1990, Florida won 18 of the next 21 meetings, a run of dominance that continued through Ron Zook and Urban Meyer.
Georgia regained the upper hand after Muschamp replaced Meyer in 2011, winning the last three games though by an average of just 5.0 points. The Bulldogs are projected to have a much easier time of it Saturday, going in as 13-point favorites – their largest spread over the Gators in at least the last two decades.
That’s because Florida is coming off a 42-13 home loss to Missouri on Oct. 18 and ranks 96th in the nation and 11th in the SEC in total offense, averaging 368.0 yards.
Beating Georgia won’t save Muschamp’s job, but losing the neutral-site game for a fourth consecutive year could mean the end of his time in Gainesville.
”As a football coach, it’s a bunker mentality,” Muschamp said. ”It’s what you deal with when you get in this profession. I told the team after the (last) game, I said, `As a fan, you buy a ticket. They reserve the right to boo. They buy the ticket, they can come boo and chant and holler and scream and start a website and all that stuff.’
”If that’s what they want to do, that’s certainly their prerogative. As a coach or a player, when you come to the University of Florida or a place like this, that’s something you’ve got to accept. That’s part of it.”
Richt is doing his best to make sure the Bulldogs don’t look past Florida, especially after they seized command of the SEC East with impressive victories over Missouri and Arkansas, shaking off Gurley’s jarring suspension.
”This team was improving whether Todd played or not,” Richt said. ”We were getting better defensively. We were getting better offensively. A lot of people say Todd not being there gave the team incentive to play harder. There may be some truth to that. They love Todd. They wanted to honor him, especially when he missed some games. They wanted to give him a little sign like, `Hey, we’re with you.’ But we were getting better regardless.”
While freshman Nick Chubb has justifiably received plenty of accolades for the job he’s done filling in for Gurley, the Bulldogs’ biggest improvement has been on the other side of the line.
Georgia has forced nine turnovers the last two games, leading to a 34-0 rout of Missouri and an easy win over Arkansas in which the Bulldogs led 38-6 at halftime.
The improved defense and stellar running game – even with Gurley on the sidelines – has allowed the Bulldogs to keep winning without a 200-yard passing game from Hutson Mason.
”If you don’t turn the ball over, you don’t beat yourself with penalties, you don’t really have to be number one statistically in every category,” Mason said. ”We’re going to hit you in the mouth. We’re going run it down your throat. A lot of teams can’t handle that for four quarters.”