For the first time in my life, the adage "It doesn't matter what happens as long as we beat X" is true for my football team.
I grew up in a Seminole household during one of the greater dynasties in college football history. There was no X team for those Noles. People may have said, "as long as we beat the Gators," but they didn't really mean it.
From the time I was born until I decided to cast aside my upbringing and attend the University of Florida, the Noles' actual goal was "win all of our games and take home another championship."
Since that point, I've been a Gator, and Florida has been one of the strongest teams in the nation.
Once again, some Gator fans may echo the "as long as we beat Georgia/Tennessee/Florida State" depending on which rival they've decided to focus their hatred on. No Gator has actually meant it though. No Gator would look back on 2007 and say, "That season was great! We beat FSU!" because 2006, 2008 and 2009 are right there setting the bar for expectations.
The same goes for University of Georgia fans. They may hate the Gators or the Techies, but there's no way that they would throw away the rest of the season just to beat Florida or Georgia Tech. Expectations are too high for either team to have such a complacent mentality.
This year is no different, really. Despite the down year for both programs, I would not throw out the season just to say, "WOOOHOOO WE BEAT GEORGIA!" However, I will say, "It doesn't matter anymore if Florida fails to beat Georgia."
This season is already a disaster. Florida is in the middle of its longest losing streak since the pre-Steve Spurrier days. If Florida loses on Saturday, the rest of the year doesn't matter. I don't care about the toilet bowl game the Gators will go to. I don't care about the Florida State game in November. I don't really care about keeping the Gators' bowl streak alive.
I won't be giving up on the Gators; there's always next year. I will give up on this season though. 7-5 or 5-7 won't be any different in my mind.
Despite the Gators' struggles, the SEC East is so down that Florida still controls its own destiny. Even if Florida gets embarrassed in Atlanta, just getting there in a down year keeps the Gators on track.
A loss at Georgia changes that and virtually guarantees that the Gators will finish in the bottom half of the SEC for the first time since 1987 (when the Gators placed sixth out of 10).
Georgia's run is a little shorter but still fairly impressive. The Dawgs haven't had a losing record in the SEC since 1996 and have finished in the top half of the conference since 1997.
On Saturday, one team will win, and one team will be handed a season-ending loss. It's kind of like a playoff, if the losing teams in the playoffs were turned into zombies and forced to shamble along for three or four more games until somebody finally came along and put them out of their misery.
The loser will be third in the SEC East and eighth in the SEC, fighting for bowl eligibility for one of the worst SEC bowl tie-ins. The winner won't be in much better shape; however, they will still have a shot at Atlanta, the miracle upset over whichever SEC West juggernaut survives and a big middle-finger salute to the BCS if the SEC champ is an unranked, three/four/five-loss team.
The only way Florida salvages anything from this season is by getting to Atlanta, and the only way Florida can do that is by winning in Jacksonville against Georgia. I'm sure Bulldogs fans feel the same way about their season as well.