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This Saturday's border-war rivalry between Florida and Georgia would have a different subplot if you consider what might have been.
There was a time not too long ago when Florida coach Urban Meyer wanted to see Georgia sophomore Matthew Stafford in a Gators uniform. In Athens, Georgia coach Mark Richt was imagining Florida sophomore Tim Tebow in Bulldogs black and red.
''We were trying to get Tim; we were trying to get Matthew,'' Richt said. ``The guys landed at great spots just because of their backgrounds and unique gifts.''
Stafford, the pocket passer, and Tim Tebow, the dual-threat, meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville for the first time as collegiate starters. No. 9 Florida (5-2, 3-2 in SEC) and No. 20 Georgia (5-2, 3-2 in SEC) both need wins to remain alive in an SEC East Division, featuring five teams with two losses each.
''I keep up with [Tim Tebow] some,'' said Stafford, who got to know Tim Tebow during the recruiting process. ``It's hard not to because he is everywhere you look. We're in two completely different offenses and play on two completely different teams.''
Like Richt, Meyer was recruiting both players. While steering Tim Tebow away from Alabama (Mike Shula) and Georgia, Meyer also formed a friendship with Stafford and his family.
Stafford and Tim Tebow were two of the top high school football talents in the fall of 2005. While Tim Tebow was leading Ponte Vedra Beach Nease to a state championship in Florida, Stafford was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's top quarterback prospect after winning a state championship in Texas.
''They're doing the things you'd thought they'd do when they were in high school,'' Meyer said. ``Both are very, very valuable keys to the success of their teams.''
Like Tim Tebow, Stafford has strong ties to the state of Florida. Georgia's quarterback was born in Tampa and both of his parents graduated from Florida State. Stafford then lived in Dunwoody, Ga., while his father attended graduate school at UGA.
''We had a little more of a connection with Matthew than Tim,'' said Richt, a longtime assistant at FSU. ``He grew up loving all the quarterbacks I had coached at Florida State.''
It's hard to imagine more hype than the expectations now anchored to Tim Tebow, a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, but Stafford was tagged with future NFL stardom even before his first snap at Georgia. ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted Stafford would eventually be a No. 1 pick in the NFL.
While Tim Tebow and Florida are favored to win Saturday, it was Stafford who was predicted to be the better quarterback out of high school. Stafford outperformed Tim Tebow during the 2005 EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp, an annual workout of the nation's top passers. Stafford was named the camp's most valuable player and also won the ``Best Arm Award.''
''Matthew has one of the great releases and great arms in college football,'' Meyer said. ``As far as arm strength, he's a little bit of a streak passer. When he's on, it's tough.''
As a freshman, Stafford's golden arm was too tempting for Richt to keep out of the starting lineup. Stafford started eight games, including the final six of the season, and was named offensive most valuable player of the Chick-fil-A Bowl after a 31-24 win against No. 14 Virginia Tech.
Stafford has added to his success this season, leading Georgia in wins against SEC foes Alabama, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
''It's going to be a whale of a game,'' Richt said.
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