Georgia football coach Mark Richt had a team on the way to an outstanding season after impressive home victories over South Carolina and Louisiana State in September. But injuries threw the Bulldogs for a loop.
Star running back Todd Gurley sprained an ankle against LSU, and then a slew of players went down the following week at Tennessee. Missouri and Vanderbilt tripped up the Bulldogs the next two weeks.
Still, because of South Carolina’s improbable comeback win at Missouri, the winner of today’s Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville, Fla., will have a shot at winning the Southeastern Conference East. And the winner is going to be the Bulldogs, who will cover the 3-point spread for their first three-game win streak over the Gators since 1987 to 1989.
In Georgia’s first four games, Gurley rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He was on his way to earning All-America honors and might have been a Heisman Trophy candidate. His absence was magnified when backup Keith Marshall suffered a knee injury against the Volunteers.
Senior quarterback Aaron Murray has been left without three of his top wide receivers and has the support of a short-handed running attack.
But the Bulldogs’ defeats came with Gurley in street clothes. After missing three games, the sophomore finally will be in uniform to start against Florida, and starting safety Tray Matthews is returning, too.
The Gators are no strangers to the injury bug, either. In fact, with the possible exception of Maryland, no team in America has been more decimated by injuries. Eight players are out for the season, including the team’s starting quarterback (Jeff Driskel), best defensive player (Dominique Easley), starting running back (Matt Jones), a starting offensive tackle (Chaz Green) and the best kick returner in school history (Andre DeBose).
Ronald Powell and Damien Jacobs, starters on the defensive line, couldn’t play in a 36-17 loss at Missouri two weeks ago. Following the open date, Powell and Jacobs are expected to play, but the other starting offensive tackle, D.J. Humphries, is out.
Even at full strength, the Florida offense was mediocre. With the injuries, the unit is atrocious. Tyler Murphy took over at quarterback for Driskel and was effective in wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, but those teams have an 1-11 combined record in SEC games. Making matters worse, Murphy has a sore shoulder.
Florida still has an outstanding defense that will allow it to hang around for three quarters, but without any production from the offense, the defense will tire, and that’s when Gurley will take over. Look for Georgia to pull away in the fourth quarter and win by 10 to 14 points.
Four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
■ MISSOURI (-10½) over Tennessee — Many pundits are suggesting the Tigers could be suffering from a hangover after the double-overtime loss to South Carolina. But Missouri still controls its destiny to win the SEC East. An elite set of wide receivers should exploit a banged-up Tennessee secondary. Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley is out for the rest of the regular season, so they turn to freshman Josh Dobbs to make his first career start.
■ IOWA (+9½) over Wisconsin — The Badgers are No. 11 in my power rankings, and I’m in no rush to go against a team that is 6-0-1 against the spread. But Wisconsin is overpriced here. I made the line 4½. Iowa is vastly improved, and it’s never a bad idea to take a home ’dog with a stout defense. The Hawkeyes are 12th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 18.1 points per game, and they gave Ohio State fits on the road two weeks ago.
■ Minnesota (+8) over INDIANA — The Gophers are brimming with confidence after back-to-back wins over Northwestern and Nebraska. Minnesota has a strong rushing attack, averaging 217.8 yards per game. On the flip side, the Hoosiers have a horrible run defense, allowing an average of 221 yards rushing to rank 113th in the nation. I made Indiana a 3½-point favorite.
■ Tulane (+2½) over FLORIDA ATLANTIC — The Green Wave have won four in a row straight up and ATS, with a 5-1 spread record in six games as an underdog. Nick Montana returns at quarterback after a two-game absence. The Owls are favored for the first time this season, and their head coach and an assistant were fired this week in controversial fashion, so their preparation has been negatively impacted.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread
Brian Edwards of Sportsmemo.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.