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Faceoff in Florida: Bulldogs look to reverse 'Cocktail Party' trend
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Quarterback Tim Tebow grew up in Jacksonville and went to the Florida-Georgia game just about every year. Although he knows plenty about the storied rivalry, his memories are pretty much one-sided — much like the series has become.

Tebow’s earliest recollections begin around 1990, the same time Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville and turned the "World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" into his own little shindig.

The Gators have celebrated nearly every one since.

They have won eight of nine and 15 of the last 17 in the series, giving Tebow plenty of fond memories heading into his first Florida-Georgia game as a starter.

"Any time Florida won was a good one," Tebow said.

The ninth-ranked Gators (5-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) will try to extend their dominance today when they face the 20th-ranked Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) for the 63rd consecutive year.

This one, like many others, has implications.

Florida controls its path in the conference race. The Gators beat Kentucky 45-37 last week and got losses from South Carolina and Tennessee to move back in the driver’s seat.

But the next three games — against Georgia, Vanderbilt and South Carolina — will determine whether the Gators head to Atlanta for a shot at the league title and a Bowl Championship Series berth or slide into a second-tier bowl one year after winning the national championship.

"It’s the best feeling in the world," defensive tackle Clint McMillan said. "You don’t ever want to have to be dependent on someone to lose. It’s good that we got all of that out of the way. In three hours, we went from fourth in the SEC East to back on top. All we have to do is handle our business, win the rest of our games."

Georgia, meanwhile, has a much tougher road.

The Bulldogs need a rare victory against the Gators, then would have to beat Auburn and Kentucky next month and hope the Volunteers and Gamecocks falter down the stretch.

Nonetheless, those losses by Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee last weekend put Georgia in a much better position than it was a few weeks ago.

"It’s a wild year, isn’t it?" coach Mark Richt said. "I’m just taking this baby one at a time. I quit worrying about the other stuff. I’m worrying about who we have this time around. I’m done looking too far ahead into the future, at least this year."

No one really knows what will happen to the series in the future.

The current contract expires after the 2010 game, and Georgia officials haven’t committed to keeping it in Jacksonville.

They seem to prefer moving it to campus sites or alternating years in Jacksonville and Atlanta or possibly mixing the two.

Florida fans, naturally, argue that Georgia’s complaint stems from the recent lopsidedness of the series. They might have a point, too. After all, aside from wins in 1997 and 2004, the rivalry has been more frustrating than fulfilling since 1990 — a big turnaround after the Bulldogs pretty much controlled it in the ’70s and ’80s.

"A rivalry game needs to be more equal in who wins and who loses, which it hasn’t been lately," Richt said. "It’s been a rivalry of streaks, and I don’t know how often it’s been back-and-forth, back-and-forth like our rivalry with Auburn, which just seems to be very, very close games but also spread out pretty good where no one had a huge run.

"Florida’s just been dominating as of late."

Yep, just ask Tebow.

Although he has read and heard about famous plays like Florida’s costly "fourth-and-dumb" call in 1976 or Buck Belou’s 92-yard touchdown pass to Lindsay Scott that gave Georgia a win in 1980 or Antoine Lott’s touchdown-saving timeout in 1993 that propelled the Gators to victory, Tebow has only experienced Florida’s recent winning stretch.

What about those games in 1997 and 2004?

"It was a bad day," he said.

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