HOOVER, Ala. — Florida players said Monday that playing Georgia in Jacksonville “feels like home.”
A few Gators, however, continue to voice interest in the series going to a home-and-home.
“Me personally, I would’t mind it, because it would be a good feeling to beat them at Georgia,” Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga said at SEC Media Days in the Wynfrey Hotel.
“It’s basically a home game for us, and that’s what Coach (Dan) Mullen says, ‘It’s our home game, it’s our field. We’re the Florida Gators, and we run this state so we’e got to show everybody.’ ”
Mullen straddled the fence on Monday when asked about the ongoing controversy surrounding the rivalry game being played annually in Jacksonville.
The tickets for the game are split 50-50. But the location is more than 330 miles from the University of Georgia, and just over 70 from Gainesville.
Recent unscientific internet polls showed the fans split on their preference for the location of the game.
“I think you could make an argument either way,” said Mullen, who just two weeks ago indicated in an exclusive interview with DawgNation that the future of the rivalry beyond the contracted game in 2021 is up in the air.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has pointed to the disadvantage the Bulldogs are put at by losing what would be the most valuable official visit weekend among UGA’s SEC opponents.
Florida, meanwhile, could be motivated to shift the Georgia game to a home-and-home to bolster sagging season ticket sales in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Gators quarterback Feliepe Franks said it doesn’t matter to him where the game is played.
Franks said he does feel Florida has a home field advantage in Jacksonville.
“We have a bunch of fans come out there to that game, and we’re just right down the road,” Franks said. “It feels just like a home game running out there with all the Florida fans, so it’s an awesome feeling.”
Gators tailback Lamical Perine said he likes the location of the game and would prefer if the game stayed at TIAA Bank Field, the home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“My first year there, I had never played in an NFL stadium before,” Perine said. “Just being able to have that type of experience and understanding what the tradition is, it would be great for a lot of guys if it was kept there.”
The future location of the Georgia-Florida rivalry has been an ongoing conversation throughout the offseason, particularly after Smart said on television that losing that recruiting weekend was “a tough pill to swallow.”
Indeed, the Athens infrastructure has likely had trouble digesting the loss of that home game for decades, particularly after it was revealed the Jacksonville estimates the financial impact of the game to be $35 million annually.
The University of Georgia gets paid $3.2 million every other year to keep the game away from Sanford Stadium and 70 miles from Gainesville.
Former Bulldogs players Mecole Hardman and Deandre Baker said during the NFL Combine that they’d like to series to become a home-and-home.
“I feel like it would be more personal,” Hardman said. “I’d have liked to played in it (The Swamp),” Hardman said. “I wish we could do something different, and that rivalry would go from where it’s at to a whole other level.”
“I would love that if it was a home-and-home, and we go beat them in their stadium,” Baker said. “I’d say Florida (is the biggest rival) because I’m from Florida, and I think that’s the biggest rivalry other than Tennessee.”
SEC legend Tim Tebow wants the game to stay in Jacksonville, citing tradition and the financial impact the city gets from the Florida and Georgia
Gators defensive lineman Cece Jefferson said at last year’s SEC Media Days that just playing in Georgia’s storied stadium would make the trip worthwhile.
“I ain’t going to lie, it gets lit between the hedges, at night, I’ve seen where they light the cell phones up, and) it gets loud in there,” Jefferson said. “I wouldn’t mind going from our stadium to their stadium every year We don’t have to go to Jacksonville every year.”
For now, the teams do, at least through 2021.
Smart and his Georgia football players will arrive in Hoover on Tuesday and take their turn at the podium, and it’s a safe bet there will be more questions about the location of the rivalry game.
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