ATHENS – Georgia could be hoisting the SEC Eastern Division trophy by the end of Saturday’s game against Auburn on Saturday – or not.
There are three SEC East scenarios that could play out depending on Saturday’s outcomes:
The good news is the Bulldog Nation should know what’s at stake by Saturday’s kickoff (3:30 p.m., CBS). South Carolina-Florida kicks off at noon.
So, like there were a lot of Bulldogs calling the Hogs this past Saturday night, there will be a lot of Gamecocks yelling “War Eagle” should South Carolina beat the Gators.
“If they can win seven SEC games in a row, we’ll congratulate them and go from there,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told reporters in Columbia on Monday. “The only thing we need to think about is Florida.”
Georgia could lose to Auburn on Saturday and still get to the championship game if South Carolina loses and the Bulldogs beat Kentucky on Nov. 19. But if Georgia lost to Kentucky in that scenario, the Gamecocks would win the East based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
All those scenarios aside, Georgia knows full well that it can afford to concentrate on nothing but Auburn this week. The defending national champion Tigers (6-3, 4-2) have struggled somewhat during this rebuilding season. But they’ve already done something the Bulldogs couldn’t do — they beat South Carolina 16-13 Oct. 1 in Columbia. And traditionally Auburn has always played well in Sanford Stadium, where they are 17-10 all-time.
Meanwhile, the heat seems to have been turned up on this rivalry after last season’s game. In the Tigers’ 49-31 win in Auburn last year, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was hit late on more than one occasion by Auburn’s All-America noseguard Nick Fairley and the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen retaliated late in the contest. Eventually two Auburn players were flagged for throwing punches and had to sit out the next week’s game against Alabama as a result.
Georgia center Ben Jones, who was in the middle of all that chaos, was asked if he thought those emotions might spill over into this year’s game.
“He’s not there anymore,” Jones said of Fairley, “so it’s a new year and a new start. We’re just focusing on protecting Murray and him not getting hit at all. No matter who’s there, we’re going to try to protect him.”
But the Bulldogs don’t need last year’s antics as motivation. Almost any SEC championship they have ever won has always come down to beating Auburn in November and Georgia is acutely aware of that.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in the game, Georgia-Auburn is. It’s huge,” junior wide receiver Tavarres King said. “It’s a game that’s always extremely high energy. We’re going to work our butts off this week to get things taken care of and so we can continue to control our destiny.”
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: “With the wins that we’ve had and knowing what’s at stake and knowing we’re finally in a position to control it, I think the guys are feeling pretty good about it.”
– Chip Towers