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Florida football coach Jim McElwain will take part in the Gators' annual rivalry clash with Georgia in Jacksonville for the first time on Saturday. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is familiar with the atmosphere after 14 previous Georgia-Florida games.

Georgia football coach Mark Richt will be facing Florida in Jacksonville for a 15th consecutive season when the Bulldogs play this Saturday, so the colorful 50-50 crowd split and the heavy traffic surrounding EverBank Field are nothing new for him.

It's the first time for Florida counterpart Jim McElwain, and he can't wait.

"First and foremost, this is one of those deals where this is what college football is all about," McElwain said last week on the SEC teleconference. "The fact that it's played there I think is great, and I think it's fun for everyone involved. You've been able to set your television by this for a lot of years, and I think a reason you get into this business is to play in games like these and be a part of them.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I've never been in that stadium. I've driven by it when out recruiting, and the thing looks pretty neat."

McElwain is the fifth Florida coach Richt will have faced in Jacksonville, following Richt's one matchup against Steve Spurrier (2001), three against Ron Zook (2002-04), six against Urban Meyer (2005-10) and four against Will Muschamp (2011-14).

Having coached in four Iron Bowls as Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2008 to '11, McElwain is not unfamiliar with passionate Southeastern Conference rivalries. The Iron Bowl, however, hasn't been held before an evenly split crowd since Auburn won the 1987 meeting 10-0 at Birmingham's Legion Field.

Army-Navy and Oklahoma-Texas also have 50-50 crowd splits, which Georgia-Florida has implemented since the founding of the SEC in 1933. The only exceptions to that were in 1994-95, when Jacksonville's stadium was under renovation due to the birth of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. Those two Georgia-Florida games were played on the respective campuses.

Richt once proposed rotating this rivalry to Atlanta and even to the campus sites but then went silent on the matter, adding he didn't want to give the impression he was making excuses. The Bulldogs are 5-9 against the Gators under Richt but had won three straight before last season's 38-20 upset loss.

"It's a great venue and a great crowd," Richt said Sunday afternoon. "It's electric, and it's like no other game. Whoever has the ball, somebody is getting rowdy on the other side, and it's non-stop. It's a lot of fun, no doubt."

Georgia has won 141 games under Richt, more than any SEC East team since 2001. Florida is next with 133, and the Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) enter this year's matchup first and second in the division standings.

"It's a big game," Richt said. "We think they're all big, but certainly this one is one everybody gets excited about regardless of the record. Now it has a lot of meaning when it comes to the Eastern Division race as well."

The Bulldogs will depart Athens for the game on Thursday, and both teams will wear their home uniforms on Saturday. The Bulldogs and Gators each wore home uniforms when they played in the 1960s, and that tradition was revived last year.

McElwain may be new to the rivalry, but he coached against Georgia during Alabama's 41-30 win in Athens seven years ago. He also worked with current Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt during his four years with the Crimson Tide, with Pruitt the director of player development in 2008-09 and the secondary coach in '10-11.

"I don't know Coach McElwain well at all," Richt said. "Obviously, I've met him since he's been their coach, and it's obvious he's done a great job of getting everybody on the same page and playing as hard as they can. They've been winning some big games."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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