Georgia, George…uh? Many questions are on the minds of bettors as the defending national runner-up #7 Bulldogs take on border rival #9 Florida in the annual “cocktail party” Saturday in Jacksonville (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET).
*Was Georgia just arrogant and flat in its surprisingly one-sided loss at #4 LSU two weeks ago? Or was that clear evidence that the 2018 Bulldogs are overrated? That wasn’t a nail biter. The touchdown favorites were soundly defeated 36-16, getting outgained 475-322 on 5.9 to 5.0 yards-per-play. The Bulldogs also turned the ball over four times.
*Will Georgia be the next prominent team to improve by turning the offense over to the backup quarterback? Starter Jake Fromm doesn’t appear to have progressed since last season, when the team was carried deep by a great running game. Next in line is hotly recruited Justin Fields. Number three Notre Dame took a big step forward when it benched Brandon Wimbush for Ian Book. Number two Clemson doesn’t regret going with Trevor Lawrence over Kelly Bryant. Georgia can’t lose another game if it wants to chase those teams down for a return engagement to the final four.
*Is Georgia’s DEFENSE actually the trouble spot that’s going to keep the Bulldogs from even winning the SEC East? Only the worst college defenses should allow near 500 yards to LSU’s conservative offense. The Tigers enter the week ranked #85 nationally in total offense. New Florida head coach Dan Mullen has installed some play-calling wrinkles and had a bye week to prepare. Georgia only has five starters back from the unit that bullied Florida 42-7 in 2017.
Maybe Georgia is just another Oklahoma…one bad game (Texas), but then an explosion soon after at TCU. Or, Georgia could be Ohio State. Early defensive issues against TCU and Penn State foreshadowed last Saturday night’s debacle at Purdue.
Betting markets are still showing respect to Georgia, with a point spread near seven on a neutral field against a top ten ranked opponent. But, sharps are betting underdog Florida whenever the full 7 is in play.
Handicappers typically have solid team evaluations in place by the final Saturday in October. With Georgia, a soft early schedule and that LSU monkey wrench makes this a much tougher call. What if Georgia learned its lesson about reading too many press clippings, and is ready to make a statement in front of a huge national TV audience? What if current Georgia skeptics are right…but a quarterback switch to Fields ignites a big second half? Maybe the secret to nailing this pick actually lies on the other sideline. Florida beat LSU 27-19 in a clean stat win. Does Coach Mullen already have his Gators program in championship form?
At the very least, grab a cocktail and enjoy the game. What you learn Saturday afternoon should answer Georgia’s question marks heading into the final month of the regular season and beyond.
This piece was originally written for the NY Post.