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No, Florida-Georgia isn’t going to move from Jacksonville

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At the SEC Spring meetings in Destin on Tuesday Morning, University of Georgia coach Kirby Smart held a press conference, where he addressed several subjects. That included, when someone brought up scheduling and the Florida-Georgia series and addressing the future home of the game besides Jacksonville, where it has been played every year save for one, since the 1930s.

The third-year Georgia coach gave this answer and it raised some eyebrows:

First, there’s no indication from anywhere (besides Smart’s off the cuff suggestion) that the Florida-Georgia series will ever move from Jacksonville. And in the short-term, there still a deal with the city and TIAA Bank field for the playing of the next three games there through 2021.

Second, while scheduling has been a big topic amongst SEC officials, coaches and fans, including whether the SEC might eventually go to a ninth conference game like other “Power Five” leagues have done, that still doesn’t play into the Florida-Georgia scenario.

That’s because the Gators and Dawgs are in the same division, the East. So, whether they played the game in Gainesville, Athens or on the moon, it’s still counts, as an SEC East game.

Further, it’s become a tradition rich neutral site regular season game that may only be rivaled by Texas playing Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas every October, and arguably football’s most storied and patriotic rivalry the Army-Navy game, which rotates to a different neutral site every year.

The only two years in the last 60 that it wasn’t played in Jacksonville was 1994-95, while TIAA Bank Field was being renovated for the NFL and the Jaguars debut.

Each season the athletic departments at Florida and Georgia split up 50/50 the amount of tickets allotted for the game and it is sold true those fans as part of their school season ticket package. While an argument can be made that the school would make much more money on a home game in a given year, it balances out the same way when they would be traveling on the road with virtually no tickets the following year.

The game represents millions of tourism revenue in hotel, restaurant, entertainment monies, etc. for that weekend. And, is almost always shown nationally by CBS each year. So, it is a tremendous promotional and tourism opportunity for Jacksonville in hosting the game.

Also, make no mistake, it’s a bigger deal  now than what the Gator Bowl New Year’s Day game has become in that regard for attention, attendance and tourism. That’s because the Gator Bowl has been lagging in attendance and television viewership, as its been caught up as the third or fourth best bowl game in the early time slots on January 1st. This while competing with the Outback, Citrus and also a “New Year Six” rotating daytime bowl game on New Year’s Day.

Again, with all of those factors above in play, there’s not really a logical or financial reason why the game would move to campus sites. And you have to believe the city of Jacksonville will do everything to keep the game, as part of their community and in their stadium.

So, you can simply chalk this up to having to have something to talk about in May, and at least for a little while on Tuesday, it made for a juicy sound byte from Smart about the Florida rivalry

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Florida Gators

Gators/Canes agree to home/home series in 2024-25

Abbey Radeka

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Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

It is officially the last Saturday of the year without college football. Exactly one week from today, the Canes will be taking on the Gators in Orlando, kicking off the 2019 season.

However, this game will now be the first of three match-ups over the next six seasons. On Saturday afternoon, Stadium writer/insider Brett McMurphy reported that the Gators and Hurricanes have agreed to a home-and-home series in 2024 and 2025.

This will be the first home and home series in the rivalry since 2002-2003.

In this home-and-home agreement, Florida will host the 2024 game and Miami will host the 2025 game. And with next weeks game taking place in a neutral site, it makes for a pretty even match-up between this sunshine state rivalry.

While this year’s game will be the first time the teams have played each other in 6 seasons, the history of the UF vs UM rivalry dates back to 1938, when the teams would play annually. They were the state’s original rivalry, as the only two major college programs in Florida with football teams, before FSU entered into the arena.

Miami currently leads the all-time series 29-26, but the Gators now have a chance to tie it up by 2025.

The Gators are the favorites heading into next weekend, coming off of a stellar turn-around season led by (then new) head coach Dan Mullen. Florida has been ranked in the top 10 on multiple preseason polls and are returning starting QB Feleipe Franks.

The Canes announced last week that they’ll be starting Jarren Williams at QB over last year’s starter N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. They’ve recently been hit with a few injuries at the linebacker spot heading into the season, but overall are feeling confident under the direction of new head coach Manny Diaz.

With Florida having a shaky offseason, Miami heading into an exciting new era, and the added intensity that comes with playing an in-state rival, it really could be anyone’s game.

And it could be the start of a great series of football in the sunshine state.

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Florida Gators

Gators QB Feleipe Franks playing for his place in history

Matt Zemek

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Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Feleipe Franks is playing for history this year in Gainesville, Florida, but more than history, he is playing for a place in the hearts of Florida Gator fans. He might not characterize his journey that way, but viewed from a distance, that is the poignant center of Franks’ story as Florida’s starting quarterback.

Go through the history of Florida quarterbacks since the start of the Steve Spurrier era. The stories of these quarterbacks are very different. There is room for Feleipe Franks to fall between various extremes.

Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow are the ultimate immortals who lifted the Gators to the mountaintop. Rex Grossman deserved the Heisman Trophy in 2001 but didn’t get it. He played well against Tennessee that year, but defensive coordinator Jon Hoke coached poorly, and Alex Brown got owned by the Vols’ offensive line. Nevertheless, Grossman brought the Gators many richly satisfying moments. He isn’t in the Wuerffel-Tebow pantheon, but he was a great UF quarterback.

Shane Matthews has a special place in Gator lore. He is the man who started it all, the first special Spurrier quarterback who gave birth to the golden age of Florida football. College sports fans cherish the young athletes who built a foundation for a treasured part of their lives. Matthews was that foundational figure for Florida football fans, much as the 1994 basketball team showed Gator Nation what was possible in college hoops, catching the attention of a man named Billy Donovan, who would come to Gainesville a few years later.

Wuerffel and Tebow live eternally on Mount Olympus. Grossman and Matthews will always be treasured with great passion as all-time-great Gators.

Then the stories become a lot more complicated.

Terry Dean’s biggest sin was that he wasn’t Shane Matthews or Danny Wuerffel. Sandwiched between the two, it was hard for Steve Spurrier — trying to cement Florida’s powerhouse status in the SEC — to accept Dean’s limitations and push him to become even greater. The Spurrier-Dean relationship was memorably fractured and scarred. Since Spurrier is the most important figure in the history of Florida football, the friction which defined his relationship with Dean inevitably affected the way many (though not all) Gator fans felt about Dean.

If you were to argue that Dean was the most complicated Florida quarterback of the last 30 years, many would agree with you.

If Dean was the most complicated Gator signal-caller of the past 30 years, Doug Johnson would probably rate as No. 2.

Florida did keep winning under Johnson. It beat Florida State and knocked the Seminoles out of the national title hunt in 1997 (“BEHIND THE DEFENSE!”). It won a BCS bowl — the Orange Bowl — in the 1998 season. It won the SEC East in 1999. Yet, after the Wuerffel years, those three seasons felt like a huge letdown… and in truth, they were.

Doug Johnson, who did play with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL for a brief while, had the physical tools of a top quarterback, but he simply didn’t process the game the way great QBs do. This irritated Spurrier to no end, and it clearly wasted some of Florida’s best defenses, chiefly the 1998 group, which deserved so much better than what it got. Doug Johnson elicited the words “what might have been” in Gainesville, a frustrated litany of almosts and coulda-shoulda-wouldas.

The man who replaced Johnson in 2000 wrote a different story.

Yes, Rex Grossman played for portions of the 2000 season, but after a thoroughly ineffective first quarter in a pivotal SEC game against South Carolina, Spurrier called on Jesse Palmer — who had won in Knoxville against the Vols earlier in the year — to rescue the team. Palmer did just that, throwing for three touchdown passes and leading a 28-0 second-quarter surge which wiped away a 21-3 deficit created by two South Carolina touchdowns off blocked punt returns.

Florida won, 41-21, clinching the SEC East and setting the stage for the program’s first SEC championship since 1996 under Wuerffel.

Palmer did not have a lengthy Florida career, but in his year of truth as a Gator, the future college football commentator (whose greatest contribution to humanity was saving the life of Chris Fowler a few years ago during a Pinstripe Bowl broadcast at Yankee Stadium; Fowler had choked on a dry chicken sandwich, and Palmer successfully Heimliched the piece of poultry out of Fowler’s pipes) brought UF back to its rightful place atop the SEC.

Palmer was not an overwhelmingly great quarterback. He never dominated college football the way Grossman, his successor, did in 2001, but he stepped up when his coaches and teammates needed him most.

When considering where Feleipe Franks fits into the larger story of Florida quarterbacks, he is playing to be remembered in a vein similar to Palmer, and to avoid being remembered as a Johnson-like figure. The Johnson and Palmer comparisons aren’t exact and will never be easy fits with the example of Franks, nearly two decades later, but they represent larger portraits of careers and the paths they follow.

The mention of Doug Johnson’s name elicits a cringe or a wince in Florida football circles. His time under center was painful for Gator fans. Mentioning Palmer within a Florida football context would call forth many happy memories of a redemptive season and a year when Florida restored something which had been missing.

Isn’t this what Franks — under head coach Dan Mullen — is trying to chase down in 2019?

Franks has had his Johnsonian bad boy moments. He has lived through his own periods of considerable friction with the Florida fan base. Yet, at the end of the 2018 season — chiefly in the Peach Bowl win over Michigan — Franks showed that he was capable of evolving, that he could process the game at a higher level, the way Doug Johnson never quite achieved two decades earlier.

If Franks can turn the corner this year and give Florida an SEC East title — which would almost certainly mean a win over Georgia in Jacksonville — the way he has been thought of in Gainesville will give way to a distinctly different identity.

Yes, Feleipe Franks is playing for history, but more than that, he is playing so that he can be remembered in the right way and for the right reasons. It is a personal aspiration, but it is connected to team success.

Another powerful and complicated Florida quarterback story is about to be written in 2019.

We will see how happy the ending turns out to be.

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