ATHENS — Georgia may not simply try to win on Saturday to prevent Florida from traveling to Atlanta in December for the SEC championship game — and strengthen its own title chances in the process.
The Bulldogs’ defense will also attempt to do enough against Tim Tebow to prevent him from making a trip further north — to New York City as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
The dual-threat quarterback keys a Gator attack that averages more than 40 points a game and is considered by many as the current favorite to win the Heisman, which is presented annually to the top player in college football.
He says he won’t alter his style of play to gain individual awards, but Tebow knows that measure of personal success is often an extension of team success. The Heisman winner’s team has played in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game in six of the last seven years.
"It does go hand in hand a little bit, but if it depends on me throwing for more yards or running for more yards or something like that to get your stats up, I just worry about winning games and getting us to Atlanta than getting to New York," Tebow said.
Tebow ranks first in the nation in passing efficiency (177.5 passer rating) and is seventh in total offense (327 yards per game), having passed for 1,711 yards, run for 623 more and accounted for 27 total touchdowns. Slowing him down will be the main objective when the 20th-ranked Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 SEC) meet Tebow’s ninth-ranked Gators (5-2, 3-2) this afternoon in Jacksonville.
"He does make everything flow," Georgia middle linebacker Marcus Washington said. "But if we kill his spirits, we probably kill the team’s spirits."
For most of the last two decades, it has been Georgia’s spirit getting killed. The Bulldogs are tired of hearing about how Florida has owned the series for quite some time — winning 15 of the last 17 meetings in Jacksonville.
But they know they have to win to break that trend and end the psychological grip the Gators seem to hold over the Bulldogs.
"With me it’s not like that," Georgia tight end Tripp Chandler said. "It doesn’t matter if they’re the No. 1 team in the nation, I’m gonna go into the game thinking we’re gonna win. I think everybody has to think that way."
As if further motivation is necessary, the winner will remain in the thick of the SEC East race. The teams are tied with South Carolina for first in the division with 3-2 league records, a half-game ahead of Kentucky and Tennessee’s 2-2.
"It’s great going into Game 8 and we’re still playing a game that has a lot of relevance in this Eastern Division race," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
But in order for their remaining league games to be relevant, the Bulldogs probably need a win on Saturday.
Bouncing the hated Gators’ star player from the Heisman race would just be the icing on the cake.