Back in his Montana State days, McElwain learned what rivalries in college football are about. Their annual game -- known as the Brawl of the Wild -- against Montana got the competitive juices flowing on both sides.
The winner of that game earned the Great Divide Trophy for a year, but McElwain was on the losing side of it during every game of his 1995-1999 tenure at Montana State.
"You want to go see a rivalry that a bunch of people don't really like each other on a given day,” McElwain said. “There's a million people in the state, and there's 500 on one side and 500 on the other.”
The stage will be bigger on Saturday in Jacksonville and the stands will be a lot more full. Inside the Florida football facility, they know what Saturday means to the program even if they’ve never been a part of it.
McElwain hasn’t experienced a game against Georgia since taking the job at Florida, but there are enough former players still around the program to help him understand it. Some of the former players have spoken to McElwain and other new staff members about how special the game is to both programs.
But even following college football from the outside of the Florida and Georgia programs, McElwain always knew about the rivalry between the two and the unique atmosphere in Jacksonville.
“It’s a little bit more,” McElwain said of how special rivalry games are. “The preparation and attention to detail, it doesn’t matter what. You’re going to lose if you don’t handle those things properly. That doesn’t matter what you go into. If you’re going into a game of Chutes and Ladders, you’ve got to prepare yourselves to go be successful. That’s what we have to do as a team and an organization.
“Rivalries, that’s what makes college football what it’s all about.”
Florida’s veterans even spent time over the bye week telling McElwain what the EverBank Field atmosphere is like during the rivalry. Senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman joked on Monday that the players will have a meeting with McElwain to run down some of the rivalry’s history and tell him “what he’s been missing out on” before coming to Florida.
“I’m excited to be a part of something that carries as much history, nostalgia,” McElwain said. “This is what college football is all about. It doesn't matter what part of the country you grew up in, you knew the Florida-Georgia game was going to be a national televised game and you kind of set your calendar by it. That’s a lot of fun.
“I’m looking forward to coming over that Hart Bridge and seeing what this thing looks like and having an opportunity to play in Jacksonville, it’s a city that embraces it.
The bye week was just what the Gators needed on the injury front.
Tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) will “be back finally” and defensive tackle Joey Ivie (stomach) will also return. Safety Marcell Harris (ankle) will return to action against Georgia.
Former walk-on Case Harrison (hand) will also be back and give the Gators a boost on special teams. The Gators will also get offensive linemen Travaris Dorsey and Kavaris Harkless back from undisclosed injuries.
“It looks good,” McElwain said. “We had a good week off in terms of getting those guys back.”