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Florida vs. Georgia

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The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has gone the way of the Gators in recent years. In fact, Florida (7-0 straight up, 6-1 against the spread) has won 18 of the last 22 head-to-head meetings against Georgia, which hasn’t won back-to-back games in this rivalry since the 1980s.

As of late Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Will Muschamp’s team installed as a 6 ½-point favorite with the total in the 46-47 range. Gamblers can take the Bulldogs to win outright for a lucrative plus-230 return (risk $100 to win $230).

UF stayed undefeated by spanking South Carolina by a 44-11 count as a 3 ½-point home favorite last Saturday. The Gators were actually out-gained 191-183 in total offense, but they cruised to the blowout victory thanks to a 4-0 advantage in turnover margin.

Jeff Driskel threw four touchdown passes, including a pair of scoring strikes to junior tight end Jordan Reed. For the season, Driskel is completing 66.9 percent of his throws with an 8/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Driskel is also a threat with his legs, as evidenced by 321 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Senior running back Mike Gillislee has been keyed on by opposing defenses recently, resulting in just 104 rushing yards and zero TDs in the last two games.

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Nevertheless, Gillislee is still fifth in the SEC in rushing with 652 yards and seven TDs. He averages 4.7 yards per carry.

Florida doesn’t blow any opponent away with offensive firepower, but it has established a recipe for success bases on defense, special teams and taking care of the football. Speaking of special teams, the Gators might have both the best place-kicker and punter in the nation.

Kyle Christy had a huge impact on the win over the Gamecocks, flipping the field several times while averaging 54.3 yards per on seven punts. Caleb Sturgis, who has been injured and unable to play in two straight games against UGA, has excellent range and will probably be booting field goals on Sundays next year.

Georgia (6-1 SU, 2-5 ATS) went into 2012 as the SEC East favorite based mainly on the fact that it had an easier schedule compared to its division rivals. This is the second straight season that Alabama, LSU and Arkansas have been absent from the Dawgs’ slate.

Even though it has won six of seven games, Mark Richt’s squad has not picked up any style points along the way. Last week may have been the best example.

Kentucky was without its two best QBs, two best RBs and nearly its entire secondary when UGA came to Lexington. But the Wildcats were in the game for 60 minutes before coming up on the short end of a 29-24 decision. UK took the cash as a 25 ½-point underdog.

Most of the criticism in Athens has come toward a stop unit that’s stacked with NFL talents like Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. However, the defense has struggled mightily against the run, giving up 167.9 yards per game.

Rambo and Ogletree’s four-game suspensions didn’t help, nor did two-game suspensions for another pair of starters in cornerback Sanders Commings and LB Chase Vasser. Jones didn’t play last week at UK due to a sprained ankle, but he’s set to return to the lineup in Jacksonville.

Aaron Murray is a solid signal caller for UGA, but he’s had a propensity for not playing his best in the biggest games. For instance, he was awful in a 35-7 loss at South Carolina earlier this month, and the junior kept Tennessee in the game in a non-covering 51-44 home win by gift-wrapping the Vols with a pair of first-half TDs (one pick-six and a fumble on UGA’s nine).

I don’t mean to portray a picture of all gloom and doom for UGA, though. After all, a win over Florida will put the Bulldogs in control of their own destiny in terms of winning the East and returning to the Ga. Dome for the SEC Championship Game. Furthermore, none of Georgia’s goals are off the table as it could conceivably still win the national title.

With that said, there’s no hiding this team from the ‘underachiever label’ to date.

One positive for the Dawgs has been the emergence of a pair of freshman RBs in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, who have combined to rush for 1,110 yards and 14 TDs. Gurley has nine rushing scores and is averaging 6.7 YPC. Marshall has five TD runs and a 7.0 YPC average.

Murray has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,906 yards with a 16/4 TD-INT ratio. One of his favorite targets, WR Michael Bennett, suffered a torn ACL in early October and is done for the season. Taverres King has a team-high 26 receptions for 511 yards and five TDs.

When these teams met last year, UGA captured a 24-20 win as a 3 ½-point favorite. Murray threw a pair of TD passes on fourth-down plays.

The ‘over’ is hitting at a 5-2 overall clip for UGA, while the ‘under’ has gone 4-3 overall for UF. The ‘over’ is 4-1 in the last five UF-UGA games.

CBS will provide television coverage at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Auburn owns a 5-1 spread record in six games as a home underdog during Gene Chizik’s four-year tenure. The Tigers, who are 15-point home ‘dogs Saturday vs. Texas A&M, have won three of those games outright.

--Vanderbilt is favored by 33 Saturday at home vs. Massachusetts. Many sharp bettors like to fade (go against) teams when they are in unfamiliar roles. Obviously, we don’t see the Commodores as extremely healthy favorites very often. However, we should note that in three double-digit ‘chalk’ spots on James Franklin’s watch, Vandy has gone 3-0 ATS.

--Florida has won 18 of the last 22 head-to-head meetings against Georgia dating back to 1990. The Gators are 3-1 ATS in the last four encounters. For what it’s worth (nothing?), UF head coach Will Muschamp is winless in five Florida-Georgia games. He was winless as a player at UGA in four tries and his first UF squad lost a 24-20 decision in Jacksonville last year.

--Northwestern is a six-point home favorite vs. Iowa. Although the Wildcats are 2-0 ATS as home favorites this season, they are 6-13 ATS in 19 games as home ‘chalk’ during Pat Fitzgerald’s seven-year tenure.

--Duke has never beaten Florida St, going 0-17 with an average score of 50-16. No game has been closer than 19 points. The Seminoles are favored by 27 ½ at home against the Blue Devils.

--ULM owns a 6-1 spread record after rallying for a 43-42 overtime win last week at Western Kentucky. For the second time this season, the Warhawks rallied from a 28-7 deficit to win a road game in overtime. They take on South Alabama this weekend as 23-point home favorites.

--Notre Dame is 3-1 ATS as a road underdog during Brian Kelly’s three-year stay at the helm. The unbeaten Irish is an 11-point underdog at Oklahoma.

--Virginia still hasn’t covered the spread all season, going 0-7-1 ATS. Unfortunately, gamblers can’t fade the Cavs this weekend because they have an open date.

--Click here to check out my Power Rankings going into Week 9.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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