ATHENS — The Georgia-Florida game is at the front of Kirby Smart’s mind. He knows that Georgia’s future schedule now features a date with No. 3 Tennessee.
But he’s not at all worried about whether his team is looking ahead. He knows the history of this rivalry and all the twists and turns that come with it.
“This is the Georgia-Florida matchup,” Smart said. “I don’t think you have to worry about that. I might understand if it was a non-conference or an FCS opponent, but that’s not going to be the case on Florida.”
Smart played in this rivalry when he himself was a Bulldog. He’s now served as the head coach in this game for six years, going 4-2 against the Gators in Jacksonville, Fla.
How much longer the game remains in Jacksonville is a question, with the contract currently set to expire after the 2023 matchup.
Smart in the past has made it clear that he wants the benefits of the extra home game every other season, due in large part to the recruiting opportunities.
But he also understands the financial aspect of it as well, with all the money the school gets from Jacksonville and splitting gate revenue with Florida.
“When it comes down to it, there’s a very, very basic element of everything comes back to, number one money and number two, recruiting and getting good players,” Smart said. “I firmly believe that we’ll be able to sign better players by having it as a home-and-home because we’ll have more opportunities to get them to campus.”
Georgia has routinely been one of the best recruiting teams in the country under Smart. It speaks to the importance of it to the program. The Bulldogs sit with the No. 2 ranked class in the 2023 recruiting cycle.
And while no player might commit solely because of one home game every two years, it’s more than just getting prospects to games. There’s the extra time to sit down and talk with them over the course of the entire weekend.
Smart understands his words carry weight on the matter. He also knows the future of Georgia-Florida won’t be decided right this second and certainly not before the two teams meet on Oct. 29.
“I’m not fighting the fight for anything,” Smart said. “I’m worried about our team and us playing well and how we block and tackle of what plays we call it how we play special teams. That’s just not a priority for me, where that game is right now.”
As for how some current members of the team feel, Warren McClendon and Nolan Smith both enjoy the vibes out of Jacksonville. But those two both hail from South Georgia, where the game takes on greater importance for Bulldog fans given the proximity.
“It is exciting for me because it is a game that I have watched all my life,” Smith said. “I am a kid from Savannah, and I used to go to Jacksonville to go to camps with my mom. I get really excited to play in that game.”
Tight end Brock Bowers, who is a Napa, Calif., native, shares a stance similar to that of Smart. He loves the pageantry that comes with the game. Bowers didn’t get a chance to visit a Georgia game prior to arriving on campus, but Georgia-Florida would theoretically be the type of game he would make the cross-country trip for.
But whether this game is played in Athens, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Thomasville, Rome or whatever other city you can think of, the Georgia-Florida game is hugely important.
“The first time playing in Jacksonville, I didn’t know what to expect,” It was pretty cool to see. It’s a rivalry game, it’s always a big one.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart shares his thoughts on Georgia-Florida
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