It has been awhile since “The Cocktail Party” was THIS important.
The 2018 version of the annual showdown between the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators in Jacksonville (CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday) is a virtual “SEC East Championship” game. Both #7 Georgia and #9 Florida enter with one league loss. That’s true for #12 Kentucky as well. But, betting markets don’t see the Wildcats as a true contender. They’re 7-point underdogs on the road at Missouri this week.
Odds favor the Georgia-Florida winner taking the East, then getting a shot at #1 Alabama (or #4 LSU) in the SEC title tilt in Atlanta in early December. Though, it would probably take an upset of the Crimson Tide in that game to launch either East entry into the national Final Four. Whoever LOSES Saturday is officially out of the national championship conversation before November even arrives.
Georgia has been installed as a 7-point favorite in this neutral field meeting. Both teams had a bye week to prepare. Georgia also had a very loud wake-up call in its last game at LSU!
LSU 36, Georgia 16 (in Baton Rouge)
Total Yards: Georgia 322, LSU 475
Yards-per-Play: Georgia 5.0, LSU 5.9
Yards-per-Rush: Georgia 3.8, LSU 5.4
Turnovers: Georgia 0, LSU 4
Georgia was favored by about a TD in that one as well, but got squashed like a bug. As we discussed at the time, it was the first real test for the Bulldogs this season after a very easy first half slate. They came in ill-prepared, overconfident, and apparently unaware that LSU knew how to play football.
You’ve probably watched a few LSU games this season. The conservative ball-control approach of the Tigers shouldn’t make a run at 500 yards against anyone.
Bad games happen. Easy to forget that Georgia lost at Auburn 40-17 last season before steamrolling its way to the national championship game. The question for handicappers to answer this week is whether or not Georgia has taken a step or two backward after that fantastic 2017 season. Could MONTHS of reading press clippings instead of preparing create a string of bad performances vs. quality?
Florida can play! Let’s check out the same stat categories from the Gators’ home win over LSU a few weeks ago.
Florida 27, LSU 19 (in Gainesville)
Total Yards: LSU 372, Florida 391
Yards-per-Play: LSU 5.0, Florida 5.5
Yards-per-Rush: LSU 4.4, Florida 5.0
Turnovers: LSU 3, Florida 1
It’s not a perfect comparison because Georgia had to visit LSU while Florida was able to host. Home field advantage does matter in the SEC. But, it’s not enough by itself to create such dramatic point-of-attack differences. Georgia will have to lift its level of play significantly to cover the TD point spread Saturday in Jacksonville.