JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Breaking news: David Pollack and Maria Taylor want the Georgia Bulldogs to beat the Florida Gators on Saturday.
Here’s some more news: Tim Tebow and Laura Rutledge are rooting for the Gators.
In neither case does that mean they’ll pick their school to win on their respective sets for ESPN and the SEC Network tomorrow. In fact, they’ve all been criticized fairly harshly by their fan bases for not always choosing their alma maters when they make their weekly prognostications on television, which actually happens quite often.
But you can be sure of this: When they pick against their school, deep down they’re hoping to be wrong.
“That’s the line you walk between being a professional and being fans,” said Pollack, a three-time All-America while playing defensive end for the Bulldogs. “We’re always fans, but I cheer for my picks every week. There shouldn’t be any surprise about that. I want to be right.
“The only game where I don’t cheer for picks is Georgia. I hope I lose when I pick against Georgia.”
For the record, neither Pollack nor Taylor — nor Tebow nor Rutledge, for that matter — would say who they’re picking to win Saturday’s Top 10 matchup on the St. John’s River. They’re all saving that for their respective stages before tomorrow’s game between No. 7 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1) at the stadium now called TIAA Bank Field.
But there is no question who any of them want to win the game. In fact, they always have all kinds of crazy side bets they all have going on behind the scenes in that regard. Usually it requires wearing the others school colors in some form the following week.
To be sure, this a huge matchup with a lot riding on the outcome. It’s only the sixth time in the 114-year history of the rivalry that Georgia and Florida both have been ranked in Top 10 when they met here in Jacksonville. The winner will, for all practical purposes, have its ticket punched for Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game. It’s easily the biggest game in the country this week.
Hence, the national presence surrounding TIAA Bank Field this weekend. CBS is broadcasting the contest as its national game of the week (as it always does), SEC Nation is here doing its pregame show (as it usually does) and College Football GameDay is here in all its massiveness is here as well.
Even Tebow was amazed at the scene. He said he’s pretty sure it’s the first time other than the National Championship Game all three entities have been in the same location for the same game. And they were all on location Friday conducting pregame press.
Front and center, in front of the famous bus with their likenesses painted on the sides, were Georgia’s Pollack and Taylor.
What gets lost in the considerable shadows cast by the enormous rivalry between the Georgia and Florida football programs and the momentous game they’re about to play Saturday is how truly special the schools are that they attended. Those schools — both major research and land-grant state universities — are in the business of educating their students and preparing them for professional careers.
And no matter what happens in Saturday’s game, it’s clear these schools are winning. That’s something that both Georgia fans and UGA alums can be very proud.
Partucularly UGA. That the Bulldogs have two analysts working on college football’s penultimate television show — ESPN’s College GameDay — says as much about the University of Georgia as it says about Taylor and Pollack themselves.
They’re special talents on their own, but they credit the education and support they received from their school for allowing them to reach the professional heights they already have so early in their careers.
“I know that when the only reason that I am where I am is because, when I graduated, Georgia offered me a job at the university,” said Taylor, who was a rare two-sport star at UGA in basketball and volleyball. “Since then, they’ve had my back on every single step I’ve taken or if I ever needed anything. I can still reach out to (former Georgia deputy athletic director) Carla Williams, who has moved on to Virginia. Ever since I was there as a student, it’s the school that has put me into position to be successful. So I’m thankful for that.”
Which brings us back to those picks. Pollack takes his extremely seriously. He takes his job seriously, period. And he gets considerable support from Georgia in doing it.
Twice a week, Pollack leaves his Watkinsville residence and makes the 10-mile drive to UGA’s Butts-Mehre Football Complex. He’s not there to hobnob or to visit Kirby Smart to gain some special insights on the team he once went to battle with. UGA’s Sports Communication reserves its second-floor studio and its dedicated remote satellite hookup to ESPN so Pollack can share his college football opinions with a live national television audience.
And Pollack always has some strong opinions. It’s why ESPN loves him and why he can sometimes be a polarizing figure among the Dawg Nation fan base.
But he offers no apologies for his unbiased views.
“This job requires you to be a professional,” said Pollack, who started his career at Atlanta’s 790 The Zone sports talk radio station after a neck injury ended his NFL career. “When I was growing up and watching Lou Holtz (on ESPN), he would always pick South Carolina and Notre Dame and Arkansas, and I wouldn’t listen when those games would come up with him. I wanted people to take me serious on every game I could possibly pick.”
As usual, Pollack wasn’t pulling any punches when it comes to what he thinks will happen in Saturday’s game.
“I think you’ll see (freshman quarterback Justin) Fields more regardless,” Pollack said of the Bulldogs’ broiling quarterback controversy. “Fromm’s coming off his worst game, no doubt, worst game I’ve seen him play at Georgia. He’s got to be better in the pass game. But when you put Fields in, he immediately goes from good to great.”
Taylor plans to come with some hard questions on Saturday, too. “I’d love to hear what Kirby Smart has to say about what he’s doing with his quarterbacks situation,” she said. “I feel like if we knew what that was I might be able to pick Georgia.”
Either might or might not, but their opinions will be decidedly objective. That’s how they were trained at UGA.
Pollack and Taylor aren’t the only Georgia alums making their school proud on these considerable professional broadcasting stages.
Former Georgia All-American offensive lineman and NFL veteran Matt Stinchcomb also works for ESPN and the SEC Network as a college football analyst and broadcaster, as does former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, who just this fall became the latest Bulldog to join the talent pool. David Greene has done some work for the network in the past, and there certainly will be others in the future.
Georgia’s wildly popular place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is the latest Bulldog to go public with his desire to become a sports broadcaster. He’s a broadcast major in UGA’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Rutledge is a proud graduate of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communication, which often brings her nose-to-nose with Georgia’s Taylor. Well, Taylor being 6-foot-2, that’s probably not possible. But you get my drift.
They’ll have some “skin” on the game.
“Laura is supposed to be challenging me some kind of bet,” Taylor said.
So will Tebow and Pollack.
Asked what he and Pollack had riding on the game, Tebow laughed, “I don’t know yet, but it’s early.”
After interviews, Tebow headed for the SEC Nation set, a regional broadcast set up in the stadium parking lot. Pollack and Taylor, they headed over to the massive GameDay set up in a field across Gator Bowl Boulevard. It, of course, goes out to a national audience.
In this arena at least, UGA s winning.