When Jim McElwain thinks about rivalry games, he has a few that quickly come to mind.
He had “a few of them” at Alabama from 2008-11, with the annual matchups against Auburn and Tennessee .
There were the “vicious” Montana State-Montana matchups, colloquially called the “Cat-Griz” rivalry or the “Brawl of the Wild.” McElwain’s Bobcats of Montana State went 0-5 during his tenure as the team’s offensive coordinator from 1995-99.
He even ventured as far back as his high school days, when he would lead his Sentinel High Spartans across his hometown of Missoula, Montana, to face the Hellgate Knights.
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But last year, McElwain’s first as the head coach of the Florida Gators, he was initiated into the Florida-Georgia rivalry, a yearly matchup he’s admired from afar.
And it’s time for Round 2. The rivalry will be renewed on Saturday, with No. 14 Florida heading back to Jacksonville to face the unranked Bulldogs in its usual 3:30 p.m. CBS slot.
Last year’s game is still fresh in McElwain’s mind, too.
He remembered crossing the 3,844-foot Hart Bridge that towers over the St. John’s River to reach EverBank Field, seeing a contrasting clad of tailgaters on the horizon outside the stadium.
As the Gators ran onto the field before kickoff, they saw a stadium packed with more than 84,000 fans almost equally divided — red on one half, blue on the other.
And when the clock hit triple zeros, the Gators came out with a 27-3 victory.
“Shoot,” McElwain said. “I got goosebumps talking about it.”
The players also recognize how special the matchup is.
Playing at a neutral site adds another layer to it, too, they said.
“Just being a part of it, it’s a great game and a great experience,” UF redshirt senior safety Marcus Maye said. “A lot of emotion, a lot of excitement.”
Maye’s advice for Florida’s newcomers, the ones who are about to experience the emotions of the rivalry for the first time?
“Just go out and play your game,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot of games, so it’s a rivalry game but it’s not a game bigger than [any] other one.”
The Gators (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), are still in full control of their SEC Championship game aspirations. A win Saturday puts them that much closer.
“Let’s go take advantage of it and let’s really enjoy it,” McElwain said. “That’s a big key.”
THIS AND THAT
The 16-player semifinalist list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the best defensive back in college football, was released Monday, and Florida’s top two cornerbacks, Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor, were nowhere to be found.
The juniors have both excelled in pass coverage this season, helping the Gators to the second-best pass defense in the country (132.8 passing yards allowed per game). Tabor has four interceptions in five games, while Wilson has intercepted three passes and has an additional three pass breakups. Each has returned an interception for a touchdown.
“I don't know who makes those lists,” McElwain said, “but I'll put those two up against anybody in the country.”
While they were left off the semifinalist list, both Tabor and Wilson are still eligible to be named one of the three finalists for the award. That announcement will come on Nov. 22.
Florida’s Nov. 5 road matchup against Arkansas is slated for a 3:30 p.m. start and will be televised on CBS, the SEC announced Monday.