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Could Offseason Impact Gap Between UGA, UF?

By Dave Holcomb
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This year, Florida will have one distinct advantage against its biggest rival in the SEC East -- offensive continuity.

After years of Florida domination, Georgia has reclaimed its initial stranglehold on “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” The Bulldogs went 3-0 against the Gators with Jake Fromm at quarterback, outscoring Florida 102-41.

In Florida’s defense, the Gators grew closer to the Bulldogs on the scoreboard each of those three years and lost by only a touchdown in 2019. Is this finally the year Florida gets over the “Georgia hump” and lands back in the SEC Championship Game?

If it happens, the unusual offseason due to COVID-19 and the departure of Fromm will likely play a large role.

There’s a certain level of irony in even asking the question about Florida and the “Georgia hump.” It wasn’t too long ago that the pundits were asking the Bulldogs the same question about the “Florida hump.” While Georgia may own a .546 all-time win percentage against Florida, from 1990-2016, the Gators went 21-6 against the Bulldogs. During that time, Florida won three national titles; Georgia is still searching for its first since 1980.

But under Smart the last three years, the Bulldogs have become the premiere program in the SEC East. Actually, it would be more accurate to describe the program as a juggernaut. Based upon the 247Sports composite rankings, Georgia has landed a Top 3 recruiting class each of the last four years. Not even Alabama can say the same.

As a result, Georgia has dominated its division. In addition to 3-0 versus the Gators, the Bulldogs are 17-1 against the SEC East over the last three seasons.

Since the arrival of Dan Mullen, Florida has been recruiting better. In the last two cycles, the Gators have landed Top 10 recruiting classes nationally, but that doesn’t place them in the same stratosphere as the best recruiting program in the country.

Now, this doesn’t mean Florida cannot or will not beat Georgia, but until Mullen elevates his recruiting into the Top 5 nationally or Smart slips in his ability to land top talent, the Bulldogs are going to have more depth and an all-around better roster.

But this year, Florida will have one distinct advantage against its biggest rival in the SEC East -- offensive continuity. Quarterback Kyle Trask returns along with offensive coordinator John Hevesy. At Georgia, Smart is replacing both Fromm and offensive coordinator James Coley.

Despite winning 12 games and possessing a future NFL draft pick at quarterback last season, the Bulldogs struggled offensively. There were a plethora of reasons as to why. Coley was part of the issue, but not entirely the problem, yet his departure was generally welcomed with open arms from the Georgia faithful. Smart then hired Todd Monken to the coaching staff as Georgia’s new offensive coordinator. After Fromm left, the Bulldogs also added graduate transfer Jamie Newman behind center.

It’s hard to oversell the importance of those additions. Newman played very well at Wake Forest last year, and Monken promises to bring a more aggressive downfield passing approach to supplement Georgia’s dominant run game. But the coronavirus could throw a wrench in those plans.

With no spring practice, Monken and Newman won’t have many opportunities to gel before the season. Rising sophomore George Pickens is a star in the making, but Georgia also needed to find more outside playmakers, and replace three offensive line starters, this offseason. For an offense that never really fully came together in 2019, it’s extremely bad news they’ll now have to build chemistry essentially on the fly during 2020.

Assuming the season starts on time, the Bulldogs will have about two months before playing the Gators, but just three weeks into the season, Georgia will visit Alabama in a rare regular season matchup. Alabama has lost one game in September over the last 12 years.

Trask has experienced his ups and downs as the Florida signal caller, but in this unusual offseason, it’s going to be a significant advantage having continuity at key positions -- head coach, quarterback, offensive and defensive coordinator. Florida has that, and Georgia doesn’t.

In a rivalry that’s getting closer, that might be enough for the Gators to end the Bulldogs’ reign in the SEC East.