So the stakes of Saturday’s showdown between the Bulldogs and Bayou Bengals at Mercedes Benz Stadium – an arena the Georgia faithful initially liked following the 2017 Southeastern Conference Championship Game – are clear and obvious. No need to go into what’s next.
With the “Playoff-ization” of college football, the value of conference championships, while still very important, is not of paramount importance. Hey, in this decade alone, both of Saturday’s combatants have been victimized by a certain school in the SEC that has had a different set of rules, in national championship games. You know what I’m talking about. In 2011, under the “rule” of the old Bowl Championship Series, LSU pulled off one of the most important victories in school history, downing the Stampeding Pachyderm in Tuscaloosa in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown 9-6. Well, Alabama missed on the SEC Championship Game – a 42-10 LSU trouncing of Georgia – but got the berth in the National Championship Game. LSU fans don’t have to be reminded how that went. In 2017, the undefeated Crimson Elephant got beat by Auburn 26-14, “costing” them a berth in Atlanta. In Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Georgia fans, well, we don’t need to be reminded of what happened later. In that building. “We didn’t need to play in the SEC Championship Game,” I was told by a gloating “Elephant Head” once in a tavern on a road trip. One last chance to lose, one less chance to get players hurt, one more chance to hear a certain coach, when making his case, to rhetorically ask, if we were looking to find the best teams for this playoff? This a year after, when politicking for a spot against a certain school from Ohio preached how important it was to win your conference.
In the end, one of the best teams in LSU history lost a national championship game in its home state to an Alabama team that didn’t play in the SEC Championship Game. In the end, one of the best teams in Georgia history … well, again, we know the ending.
No worries on that front this year, at least. The spectre of Alabama looming for the playoff was eliminated when the Crimson Tide lost the 48-45 instant classic at Auburn.
Now here sit the Bulldogs and Tigers fighting for the SEC title, and dreaming big. LSU has presumably already wrapped up a spot in the College Football Playoff. So if the Football Gods asked LSU fans if you had to pick a game to lose, this would be it. Obviously, that’s not the case with the Bulldogs.
This is also a second straight year that if the playoff is the end goal, would the SEC and both combatants be better off not playing this game, and getting two teams into the ultimate four-team field?
Seems like an easy answer.
There is the matter of the SEC championship. That used to be the goal of every team in the toughest league in the land. Win the conference, and if the cards fell right, then that biggest of prizes would be there. That’s still the case, most of the time, but there are other outs and additional steps.
As far as what this game means for history, well it is quite large, beyond the obvious implications of what comes next.
Guess who has the most SEC championships? Correct, Bama has 27. Next is a tie of 13 with Georgia and Tennessee. Hey, this season, with the Bulldogs 43-14 victory in Knoxville, the all-time series with the Volunteers is now led 24-23-2 by Georgia. Sounds like another great spot to break another tie with Tennessee.
Just behind the Bulldogs and Volunteers is LSU, with 11 SEC championships. A win over the Bulldogs, and LSU would move within one of Georgia and Tennessee on the all-time list.
This is the fourth meeting in Atlanta between Georgia and LSU, the second most frequently occurring SEC Championship Game. Alabama and Florida, which played in the first three, and four of the first five, have met nine times for the conference title. LSU rolled past Georgia 34-13 for the 2003 conference crown. Two years later, Georgia prevailed 34-14 to capture the 2005 SEC title. Then there was the aforementioned Tigers powerhouse of 2011 that hoisted the trophy against the Bulldogs.
Though they have had numerous outstanding teams in the meantime, this is the Tigers’ first trip to Atlanta since 2011, as the boys from Tuscaloosa have been five times and Auburn twice over that stretch.
Georgia is in the SEC Championship Game for a third straight season, the first East Division team to accomplish that since Steve Spurrier’s Gators went to the first five from 1992-1996. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has joined an elite group of coaches, including Spurrier, Nick Saban and Gene Stallings, with three or more consecutive trips to the title tilt.
In all three seasons, Georgia has gone to Atlanta with records of 11-1, highlighted by substantial regular season toppings of Tech.
These Bulldogs of 2019 now continue the quest of chasing, history and championships. The SEC East was won, the state was won, and now – with the Tigers, the Tigers of Clemson and Ohio State all seeming like locks to make the playoff, even if they all lost Saturday, Georgia would need to win three games against this trio of powerhouses to win the biggest prize. But this Bulldogs team has done an incredible job of staying focused week to week. Before even thinking about the playoff, Georgia must upset one of the greatest teams and the most prolific offense in LSU history.