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Recruits will hear about border war

ATHENS, Ga. -- With as often as Georgia and Florida cross paths on the recruiting trail, the annual game between the rivals in Jacksonville takes on special significance.

Not only is it one of college football's few remaining annual neutral-site games, it typically has a bearing on which team represents the SEC East in the league's championship game.

So it goes without saying that coaches from both schools can use the festive game once known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" as another feather in their cap on the recruiting trail -- even if Florida has controlled the series for the last two decades.

"Both schools used it," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, a Tampa native who was recruited heavily by both schools. "They were like, 'Hey, you come here, you get to be part of this rivalry.' That's one thing that's common between both schools when it came to the recruiting process.

"It was definitely a huge factor when it came to deciding on schools and narrowing things down. I always knew I wanted to go to an SEC school. I wanted to go somewhere close to home. And to be part of such a rivalry was also pretty cool when it came to the recruiting process when I talked about it with the coaches."

Understandably, when the subject of the Georgia-Florida game arose with Murray in Gainesville, the Gators discussed their success in the series -- they have won 18 of the last 21 -- but that was not a motivating factor for the Bulldogs' quarterback.

"They definitely used that to their advantage when they were recruiting me, like, 'Hey, we've won this X number of times,' and this and that," Murray said. "But I just loved Georgia. I loved the coaches, I loved the offense I'm in right now. I don't regret it at all. I love being here."

A team's success rate against any individual team is rarely a motivating factor for recruits, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, although the Georgia-Florida game's presence in Jacksonville can be helpful in luring recruits from that area and South Georgia.

But even then, there are typically more significant factors for most recruits, Bobo said.

"We recruit Florida heavily, and they recruit Georgia heavily, so guys are going to be watching the game and see how you play and how you perform," Bobo said. "But recruiting sometimes doesn't always go down to who wins the game. Sometimes it's how you play and what they see you doing offensively and sometimes where they see themselves fitting in."

The game in Jacksonville could carry a more significant recruiting impact if the SEC allowed schools to host prospects at the neutral-site venue, as Texas and Oklahoma do each year in Dallas.

Texas coach Mack Brown's program hosted dozens of recruits at the Oklahoma game this year and said the ability to invite prospects to the game is a major benefit for both programs.

"It means so much to recruiting," Brown said earlier this season on the week of the Oklahoma game. "Every recruit in this state and in Oklahoma will be there Saturday. Probably all the juniors and all the seniors. All of them."

The SEC's prohibition of recruits at neutral-site games was particularly striking when Arkansas and Texas A&M played in Dallas earlier this year and the Aggies hosted recruits at Cowboys Stadium, because Big 12 rules didn't prevent them from doing so.

And just like the Razorbacks were not allowed to offer complimentary tickets to prospects at that game, Georgia and Florida are bound to the same rules in Jacksonville.

"There aren't going to be any [prospects] at ours unless they're family," Georgia recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner said. "That's the only way they can. You can't give tickets to them."

The party atmosphere along the banks of the St. Johns River in Jacksonville would undoubtedly create a fun environment in which to host high school players, but recruits consider many more important factors before making a decision.

Murray is far from the only player on Georgia's roster who also considered a scholarship offer from Florida. Several of them confirmed that coaches on both sides discussed the game in Jacksonville but said it was not a typical topic of conversation.

"They talked about it a little bit, talking about how big the SEC is and how strong the rivalries actually are and how big of a deal they actually are," said defensive end Abry Jones, a former Under Armour All-American.

Linebacker Alec Ogletree, another Under Armour All-American, agreed, saying, "They expressed just the meaning of the game. For me, this will be my second time playing in it, so I know I'm a little calmer about the game than some of the freshmen will be."

Meanwhile, 2009 U.S. Army All-American offensive lineman Chris Burnette said Florida's coaches didn't discuss the Gators' success against Georgia as a means of swaying him away from the Bulldogs. Perhaps the Gators believed they had a more convincing argument in playing up their 2008 BCS title.

"At Florida, they were pushing a lot of, 'Yeah, we're national champions' and stuff like that, but I just felt like there was something about Georgia," Burnette said. "I wasn't really enticed by Florida, just because my dad was a Georgia fan, and I was a Georgia fan."

In the end, one factor that can sway recruits more than any other: The chance to play a significant role on a winning team. That's what brought Murray and most of his teammates to Georgia, and they understand that turning the tide against Florida is a significant factor in realizing their expectations from when they signed with the Bulldogs.

"Kids want to go to programs that are winners, that win SEC championships, that win national championships," Murray said. "I wouldn't have come here if I thought we were going to lose every year to Florida. I came here because I felt that Georgia has the talent to win -- that I came in with some great talent, and we've recruited some great talent since I've come here, and that we're able to compete with teams like Florida.

"I know we can win, I know we have the talent, we've just got to go out there and execute. But guys want to come somewhere they're going to get a ring on their finger."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.