EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla., Oct. 27
Coach: Will Muschamp, 7-6 in one season at Florida.
Last year: 7-6 (3-5 SEC), finished third in the SEC East; beat Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl.
Best win: The bowl win, followed by a 48-10 shellacking of Kentucky in which the Gators looked more like the Spurrier-era juggernauts of the 1990s than they have in quite a while.
Worst loss: A 41-11 loss at top-ranked LSU that could've been even worse if a 52-yard TD run by Brad Wing (yes, the LSU punter) hadn't been nullified by a penalty.
Returning starters: 18 (seven offense, ten defense, one special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Up, but it's still not clear by how much. Factors mitigating toward a good season include a defense that returns as much experience as any in the country and an overall roster that's gotten more comfortable in Will Muschamp's system; the latter prompted CFB oracle Phil Steele to project the Gators first in the SEC East, probably the first time in 2012 anyone's picked a team other than South Carolina or Georgia to win the division. However, the offense that was the Gators' Achilles heel in 2011 remains very much in transition. The QBs on their 2012 roster completed a grand total of 38 passes last season, and the team is now on its fourth offensive coordinator in as many years. The schedule alone should put the Gators back in a bowl game, but which bowl -- and whether it'll accompany any degree of noteworthy progress -- is still anyone's guess.
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): The Dawgs' offense scores 30 while the defense hammers a Gator offense that's still finding its footing, earning consecutive victories in this rivalry for the first time since Steve Spurrier became the head coach. At the risk of overstating the importance of this one game, back-to-back wins for the Bulldogs would signal a major shift in the Georgia-Florida series. It wouldn't mean that Georgia was destined to go on a decade-long dominant streak, but it would seem to indicate that Florida's two decades of near-automatic dominance over their Bulldog rivals had come to an end. And honestly, after going 3-18 against Florida in the years from the beginning of Spurrier's tenure to the end of Urban Meyer's, a simple return to 50-50 parity is something most Dawg fans would welcome. (Then again, if Muschamp turned out to be a disaster and the Dawgs won the next five or six straight, it's hard to imagine anyone in Athens complaining.)
Worst-case scenario: Georgia's offensive line fails to protect Aaron Murray and the offense sputters just as it seems to have done in all 18 of those losses dating back to 1990 -- sending Georgia to a defeat that indicates Florida won't be laying down for their northern arch-rivals just yet. The Gator offense might still be very much in transition, but Muschamp, a defensive guru going way back, already has the Florida D operating at a very high level (eighth in the nation in total defense last season), so he's got the tools he needs to turn this game into the agonizing defensive slog that has signaled doom for Georgia in the past. The conventional wisdom is that, at the very least, Georgia has to crack 24 points to have any hope of winning in Jacksonville -- and while that doesn't sound like a very high bar to clear, the Gators always seem to have a knack for making it way harder than it looks.