Everyone knows what’s on the line Saturday.
If Georgia wins in Atlanta, keeping some positive mojo going in a city next door to campus whose domed stadiums have delivered more heartbreak and heartache than joy, the Bulldogs are Southeastern Conference champions and bound for the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season and third time in six years under the watch of favorite son Kirby Smart.
It would also deliver the Bulldogs a second SEC title under Smart’s watch, which would be the second most in league history. If the schools with double digits conference titles were the four great, beloved golfers of the late 1950s through the 1980s, Alabama would be Jack Nicklaus. The Crimson Tide have won 29 SEC titles. Georgia, Tennessee and LSU would be – in whichever order you prefer – Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The Bulldogs and Volunteers have both won 13 SEC championships. The Bayou Bengals have captured 12. For the record, when it comes to professional majors, Nicklaus won 18, Player nine, Watson eight and Palmer seven.
So there’s a historical nugget for you.
An LSU victory would tie the Bayou Bengals with Georgia and Tennessee for the second most ever at 13. As for the CFP implications, who knows?
This will be the 31st SEC Championship Game. The first two were played at Legion Field in Birmingham. Then came the move to Atlanta, where the Georgia Dome hosted from 1994-2016, and then Mercedes-Benz Stadium became the site in 2017.
For the fifth time, Georgia and LSU square off for the conference crown. The only meeting that has been more frequent is Florida and Alabama, who have played one another 10 times in SEC Championship Games.
The 21st century has been an outstanding success for both the Bulldogs and LSU. The Tigers are making their seventh SEC Championship Game appearance, all since 2001. LSU is 5-1 in their prior six, including a 3-1 record against Georgia. Those three wins – 2003, 2011 and 2019 – would catapult the Tigers to the doorstep of the national championship. LSU won it all in ‘03 and ‘19 (plus 2007 after defeating Tennessee in Atlanta. For the record, Georgia finished second nationally that year but didn’t make it to the title game.), and lost to Alabama for the 2011 national title.
Georgia is making its 10th trip to the SEC Championship Game, with a 3-6 record in the title contest. Along with the three losses to LSU, the Bulldogs have lost three times to Alabama. The wins came against Arkansas in 2002, LSU in 2005 and then Auburn in 2017, vaulting Smart’s Dogs to the Playoff, where Georgia would beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and then lose the worst heartbreaker to you know who, you know where. Atlanta.
Well, Georgia got that Elephant off the back last season, beating Alabama in the National Championship in Indianapolis. The Bulldogs topped Michigan in the Orange Bowl semifinal after falling to the Tide in Atlanta for the conference crown.
That national championship for the Bulldogs was the program’s first since 1980. There is no way any national title has ever meant more to any fan base. Anywhere. Ever. So close, so many times. Finally, the Bulldogs did it.
Now this year’s team has put itself in position to make a run at the big prize, again.
A win over LSU in Atlanta would be a huge step, quite possibly landing the Bulldogs again in Atlanta for the semifinal at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
The Bulldogs and Bayou Bengals have had very similar records in the 21st century. The biggest difference is the national titles.
Much like Atlanta being just down the road from Athens, the same can be said for New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
LSU clinched the 2003, 2007 and 2019 national championships in the Super Dome in New Orleans. The aforementioned loss to Alabama for the 2011 crown also came in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, heartbreakers in Atlanta have cost Georgia at least one (2017 obviously), probably another (2012) and possibly yet one more (2018).
Bottom line, the reason LSU has three national titles the last 20 years, while Georgia has the one last year, is that the Bayou Bengals have been way better in New Orleans than the Bulldogs in Atlanta.
Georgia was the best team in the country last season, and got the mulligan after the loss to the Crimson Tide in Atlanta. Smart and the Bulldogs don’t want to be in the position of putting their fate in the hands of the selection committee. Along with the glory of winning the SEC title, Georgia can most assuredly punch the ticket for the playoff, and quite possibly a return to Atlanta.
In the season opener, Georgia played one of the best games of any team this season, demolishing Oregon 49-3 in Mercedes Benz Stadium. That thrashing showed that the Bulldogs of 2022 were out to make their own history. It was also nice to get some good momentum in “The Benz.” Hopefully some of that positive juice will carry over to Saturday afternoon, and another milestone victory in the glory days of the Smart era of Georgia football.