ATHENS, Ga. -- Sanders Commings was remarkably composed -- and prophetic -- while speaking with the media outside of Georgia's locker room in the moments immediately after the Bulldogs' 35-7 loss to South Carolina earlier this month.
The senior cornerback reminded a collection of reporters that the Gamecocks had a difficult upcoming schedule with games against LSU and Florida and that Georgia could get "some help around the league from other teams and make it to Atlanta" for the SEC championship game.
Sure enough, LSU and Florida provided that assistance, giving Commings the opportunity he hoped for while discussing his team's numerous big-game failures and predicting the future.
"Florida's a great team and I think when we play them they'll probably be a top-five team, so that'll be another chance for us to play a top-10 opponent," Commings said while standing in the tunnel outside Georgia's dressing room at South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium. "Hopefully we can prove everybody wrong."
He was exactly right about Florida's upward trajectory -- the Gators (7-0, 6-0 SEC) sit at No. 2 in the BCS standings after slamming South Carolina 44-11 last Saturday -- and he most certainly is correct in saying that a Georgia victory against the Gators this weekend would prove everybody wrong.
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1) are 6.5-point underdogs against the Gators, and not just because Florida has dominated the annual series in Jacksonville, Fla., for the last two decades. Mark Richt's Georgia program once held its own against the best competition, but the Bulldogs have developed a reputation for wilting under the spotlight.
A win against Florida on Saturday would not immediately erase that reputation, but it could help turn Georgia's history against the Gators, and against the best opponents, in a more positive direction. Because it was only a few weeks ago that they were embarrassed by their flat performance at South Carolina.
"The loss wasn't even what was disappointing, it was the way we went out," cornerback Damian Swann said. "Going out and scoring seven points and not being able to play the way we've been playing at the beginning of the year. That really was the disappointment for us. We didn't even want to go certain places because we knew people would look at us like, 'Man, they can do it against lesser opponents, but when it's time for the big games, can't nobody step up and make plays.'
"We've got a big opportunity to change that. We're going against the No. 2 team in the country and we're just going to have to come play."
Between 2002 and 2005 -- the seasons generally recognized as the most successful stretch in the Richt era -- Georgia owned a 14-8 record against ranked opponents. That includes a streak of seven consecutive wins between the end of the 2001 season and the end of 2002.
It's a completely different story in the last five seasons, however. Georgia (No. 3 at the time) carried an eight-game winning streak against ranked teams into its 2008 "Blackout" game against No. 8 Alabama. The Crimson Tide ran out to a 31-0 halftime lead before winning 41-30 that night, starting a string of diminishing results in big games for Georgia.
Since that September night in 2008, Georgia owns a 6-14 record against ranked teams, including a 2-8 record in the last 10.
What the Bulldogs must guard against is allowing past results to become a confidence-crushing, self-fulfilling prophecy like the series history against Florida seemed to for Georgia. Steve Spurrier simply fielded more talented teams for most of his tenure at Florida, but the Gators' control of the series continued through leaner years under Ron Zook and into Urban Meyer's tenure where Florida returned to national prominence.
Since Spurrier took over at Florida in 1990, the Gators own an 18-4 record against Georgia. They have not lost back-to-back games against the Bulldogs since 1988-89, but Georgia -- which won 24-20 last season against first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp -- is aiming to end that unpleasant trend, as well.
"I think the main way to keep history from beating you is to not pay attention to history," offensive lineman Chris Burnette said. "I think you respect history. But when you harp on it and focus on it, I think it can cause something in the back of your mind where you start focusing on it whenever anything goes wrong."
In the end, Georgia's players know the program's history against Florida -- or against any other ranked team -- will have no impact on what occurs at EverBank Field on Saturday afternoon. The only way to begin authoring a more positive story is to just win, baby, because the stigma will remain until they win a game against a team of Florida's caliber.
"A lot of people say we haven't really showed up against ranked opponents -- because we haven't," Swann said. "In order for us to get where we want to go, we have to do it this week or it's just going to be another one we're going to have to eat, with everybody on our back and really saying that Georgia can't beat a ranked opponent."