Florida's three losses over their first seven games aren't all that unusual, except in the context of Florida's "recent" history over the last two decades. Teams go 4-3 to begin the season all the time — it's just that Florida doesn't.
Florida's been 4-3 just six times since 1990, when Steve Spurrier came back to Gainesville, and all of those starts were the beginnings of bad seasons. Three came in Ron Zook's three years, one came in Urban Meyer's final season, and now two have come under Will Muschamp. Florida's never fallen further than 4-4 after starting 4-3 — Florida hasn't been under .500 at any point since September 16, 1990 — but none of those 4-3 teams won more than eight games.
And this 4-3 start feels worse than the rest for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons. Florida's offense is "inept" in even its own coach's eyes, and dreadfully light on playmakers and protection. The defense is coming off two disappointing performances. The special teams aren't as special as they used to be, not with Florida switching kickers and punters already this year.
Worst of all, all this is happening after an 11-2 season that built momentum for a program that needed it. Florida flourished in 2012, but it is foundering — thanks to injuries, a tougher schedule, less sharp play, and worse luck — in 2013, while the Gators' rivals in Tallahassee and Coral Gables are thriving. Within the fan base, there is paranoia and fear about losing recruits, and frustration with style of play, and anger that has dashed the memories of last year's full strength Gators.
This is a team in a hole, and a team looking for respect. All it needs to do to get some is beat Georgia.
Georgia is in a situation similar to Florida's, except its flaws are more apparent and less injury-related, and its stakes were higher this season. Florida was supposed to take a step back after losing a lot on defense, but Georgia had a schedule set up beautifully for a return trip to the SEC Championship Game, and an offense that was going to be among the nation's best. That offense has been good throughout the year, despite Aaron Murray losing targets and running backs on a weekly basis, but the defense and special teams haven't been able to fault injuries for their flaws, and those units couldn't stop Clemson or Missouri, and coughed up a lead to lowly Vanderbilt.
Georgia comes into this game with a 4-3 record identical to Florida's, but Mark Richt's decade of excellence in Athens, punctuated by that 2012 SEC East title, has him ensconced by enough prestige and trust to avoid criticism for a ditch-bound season progressing much like Florida's has. And you can find that fair or unfair if you want, but it unquestionably makes Georgia the favorite, and the bigger potential pelt.
The Dawgs' two straight wins over Florida help, too, as does Muschamp's frustrating history in the rivalry, which has yet to end well for him in four games as a player or two as a coach. There is revenge available in Jacksonville today — but, more importantly there is respect there for the taking. A big win over Georgia — even a dramatic win over Georgia — is something for these battered Gators to hang their hats on, something to build on, something to alchemize some of the frustration into fun.
Let's hope these Gators go out and take it. As always: Go Gators.