ATHENS — There aren’t many people in Georgia’s corner of the world that think it can beat Florida this weekend. Not when you look at the standings, the rankings, recent play and how last year’s game went.
That makes Jay Kornegay an outlier, but a fairly influential one. Kornegay runs the Westgate Sportsbook, one of the most powerful in Las Vegas, which last week surprisingly installed Georgia as a two-point favorite.
By Sunday that had changed. Most other sports books started their line with Florida favored either by two or 2.5 points. Even the Westgate has moved Florida to favorite, by 2.5. But Kornegay – who for the record went to Colorado State – is still bullish on the Bulldogs.
“Georgia has been the favorite in this game for the entire year until now,” Kornegay said in an e-mail on Monday. “There are three reasons why the line has moved; Florida has been playing good football all year, Georgia lost their top running back, and the public has warmed up to the Gators. In our eyes, Georgia is still a better team and should be a short favorite. It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Bulldogs the favorite once again on game day.”
That would require a big show of faith from more like-minded people. Florida (6-1 overall, 4-1 in the SEC) enters with a more impressive resume’, with its lone loss (two weeks ago at LSU) coming by just one touchdown. Georgia (5-2, 3-2) in its past three games was blown out at home by Alabama, lost after blowing a 21-point lead at Tennessee, and eked out a 9-6 win over Missouri.
Throw in last year’s result, when Florida thumped Georgia 38-20, and the Bulldogs feel like decided underdogs in Jacksonville.
Still, there’s enough belief in Georgia, at least in Las Vegas, that the line isn’t moving very much.
“I lean Florida, especially with the (betting line) now south of three, but I won’t be surprised if this line jumps back above three or dips down to a pick ’em,” said Brian Edwards, a senior handicapper at VegasInsider.com. “It will be interesting to watch how the money comes in all week.”
This is only the second time since 2009 that Florida has been favored. The other time was 2012, and Georgia won that game.
“I guess technically we are the underdog,” Georgia senior tackle John Theus said. “But even if we were favored by 30 points that wouldn’t happen. It’s always a hard-fought game, so I’m expecting that same thing.”
Last year it was Georgia that entered favorites, and even moreso. It didn’t end up mattering on the field, as the 18-point margin wasn’t indicative of how thoroughly better the Gators were that day.
“I think last year we were I guess very surprised,” Georgia junior tailback Brendan Douglas said. “We knew they were a good team. They played a heck of a game and I’m sure they’re going to play a good game this year, and be ready to respond.”
Florida was supposed to be rebuilding this year under new coach Jim McElwain. Earlier this summer Georgia was placed as a 12-point favorite over the Gators in very early lines, according to Edwards. Georgia was still a 7-point “chalk” favorite as late as Sept. 28, before the Alabama game. Two losses by Georgia later, it was down to a 1-point favorite over then-unbeaten Florida.
Then came the suspension to Florida quarterback Will Grier suspension, which may have affected the Westgate’s early line, despite Florida’s relatively good showing at LSU, and Georgia’s lackluster win over Missouri.
Edwards, going into handicapping mode, said the quarterback match-up “is a wash” between Florida’s Treon Harris and Georgia’s Greyson Lambert. Florida has the superior defense, Edwards thinks, and also has the “mental edge” because of its success in Jacksonville over the past 25 years.
“On the flip side, UGA took a major confidence hit against Alabama. And then you lose your star, in addition to a 24-point lead at Tennessee, and you’ve got a team on the ropes. The Bulldogs pulled out a narrow win over Missouri, but the offense struggled mightily,” Edwards said. “All that equates to Florida justifiably being favored.
“But like we saw last year, this game often goes in a direction no one sees coming. And to be clear, a win for Georgia puts it right back in the driver’s seat to win the East.”
That’s how Georgia players say they’re looking at it. They know they can still win the division without any help, thanks to Tennessee’s loss to Alabama on Saturday.
“Right now the destiny is in our hands right now, and I feel like this team knows that,” sophomore linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “We’re mature enough to take advantage of our opportunity that we’ve been given, because we’ve been given a second chance. I can tell by today’s practice that this team is revived.”