Han Vance on Georgia football: The SEC East went 9-5 against the formerly superior SEC West in the 2018 regular season, after both divisions had a representative in the 2017 season national championship game in Atlanta. The East representative repeating as SEC champion on December 1st in that same building would simply seal the deal.
Florida beat LSU and Mississippi State. Kentucky blew out Miss State (and beat Florida in the swamp). Tennessee beat Auburn. Little Vandy went 2-0 across divisions. No SEC East team went winless in their two-game series this go of it, where per usual the SEC West had been audibly lauded by media pundits as the greatest division in the long storied history of the sport, at this very moment.
I was probably the first media member to notice this overrall East surge, with my article “East Uprising” for Bulldawg Illustrated way back on October 24th noting that the SEC East had three of the top 12 (25%) in the AP poll at the time, previous to the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings, which make the polls obsolete for the back half of each season.
Every SEC East team not called Tennessee has qualified for a bowl game, with Kentucky and Florida two games back rather than closely nipping at the heels of an 11-1 Bulldogs as SEC East champions. Georgia whipped both soundly, but both are more well-regarded nationally than also-rans tend to be.
In an interesting divisional short history two-by trend, Georgia won two SEC Easts, then entrant Mizzou won two, then Florida reared its ugly head with two. Now Georgia has won two again. The breakthrough last year by Georgia was not insignificant in gaining a little needed respect for the division, as no other SEC East champion won the whole league during that time period and only that second Georgia team even came close (four yards).
Historically, Georgia and Tennessee, with 13 SEC titles apiece, are the closest competitors to Alabama (24 SEC and 17 national champs), the single strongest college football program ever, featuring the two greatest college football coaches: Paul “Bear” Bryant and Nick Saban. Florida emerged as a real competitor at a time when Alabama downturned due to consistent cheating and burned through coaches. Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are the only SEC East teams to win the whole SEC since it went divisional (Kentucky won it in 1950, with “Bear”).
For Georgia’s part, the Dawgs own Auburn in a major way in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry but failed again to be anything other than blowout victims in true road games against the SEC West. In Kirby Smart’s opening act, I ventured to Oxford, Miss., for a cultural perspective study and was glad that the theme of my assignment was not football per se, as Georgia got killed by the pay-for-play Rebels. They jumped all over a team that eventually fell to 8-5, barely beating old Auburn in Athens. Next time, next year, the Dawgs visited the plains and were shutdown, bouncing back in the SEC championship game before getting another SEC West team in the national championship game and faltering. This year it was the bayou. Thank you, LSU, for lessons learned from the loss. Georgia beat Aubie in Athens, again.
Otherwise stellar coach Kirby Smart went 1-1, 2-2, 1-1 over three campaigns against the SEC West, and is 0-3, all blowouts, on the road against them. He can take another major stride by winning Saturday.
Would the College Football Playoff seatings look like this: 1. Clemson vs. 4. Bama in the Orange Bowl and #2 Notre Dame versus #3 GEORGIA in the Cotton Bowl? Probably. Would Georgia have to beat the SEC West champions again in the CFP final in NorCal? Maybe. Beat them once, you can beat them twice. And, Clemson may get through.