The best chance of Georgia beating Florida left town at the close of last season, a duffel bag in one hand and a bus ticket for the Auburn/Opelika metroplex in the other.
So long as Will Muschamp head-coached the Gators, Georgia was bound to be a rightful favorite in Jacksonville. A former Bulldog player himself, Muschamp continued to be a boon to his alma mater even as he game-planned against it. Sort of like a one-man sleeper cell inside the Florida fortifications.
Last season’s mauling of the Bulldogs was an anomaly. A blip. The equivalent of a Bigfoot-eating-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwiches-with -Elvis sighting. You just had the feeling that so long as Muschamp continued his wild ways on the Gator sideline, coaching like a fellow with fire ants up his trousers, Georgia was going to be OK more times than not.
Today, Muschamp defensively coordinates at Auburn, with the Tigers in a fearful funk. And Florida has found itself a head coach capable of turning this full contact cocktail party back in its direction.
Jim McElwain fits a certain pattern that Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has established. He may make an unfortunate hire. But he never does it back to back.
McElwain replaced the man who replaced Urban Meyer (Muschamp). Just as Meyer replaced the man who had replaced Steve Spurrier (Ron Zook was that unfortunate placeholder). It is Florida’s turn now to ride the crest of the coaching cycle.
In McElwain, Florida has a coach who has put the energy back in the offense, made this team worthy of your idle time (in the four years of Muschamp, the Gators could be less watchable than a fishing show). Eighty-sixth in passing offense a year ago, the Gators are a more respectable 49th now. (Georgia may take it as a good thing, at least, that this Florida team probably won’t be inclined to run the ball as feverishly as a year ago, when the Gators put up 418 rushing yards).
When McElwain arrived from Colorado State, there was a bit of mystery over whether he could perform the kind of repairs he did in Fort Collins on a much larger stage. Well, he’s entering his first Georgia-Florida game as the slightly favored, higher-ranked alternative. He makes converts quickly.
He has taken Muchamp’s players and elevated them to SEC East contenders instantly. No reason to believe that in the future he won’t be able to take his own and bedevil the Bulldogs far more than his predecessor.