Going into this season, I had my doubts on what I would see at this point in the year. From all the projections, prognosticators and predictions, Alabama would still be #1 and undefeated in the SEC West and LSU would be challenging Bama for the title. Auburn would be managing a respectable season with a new quarterback and questionable defense and the SEC East would be a three-way race with Florida, UGA and SUC, while the rest of the division made due on scraps. At the beginning of August, it looked like it would be another typical season in the SEC with the same players fighting their way to the top.
Through the end of week 10, Auburn sits atop the the conference and SEC West, with Bama having lost to LSU, while the rest of the West now all bowl eligible. In the East however, things are a wreck. SUC is top dog with a 4-3/6-3 record tied with Florida, UGA is 3-4/5-5, and Vandy 1-5/2-7. Only SUC & Florida are bowl eligible with their showdown next week to determine the SEC East winner. Despite the East's dismal record, they've proven they're able to make an upset when the opportunity presents itself: SUC upset Bama, UK upset SUC, and Tennessee technically should have upset LSU. With all the talk of the Iron Bowl and a possible National Title run, the game that worries me most at the moment is coming in two weeks. With UGA's 3 game win streak ended in Jacksonville, and this weekend's win putting the team at .500, the likelihood of missing a bowl game becoming more real in Athens, the Dawgs are a cornered and wounded animal, and there is nothing more dangerous in the wild.
Let's take a look at what's at stake next weekend now the Tigers and Dawgs have beat their respective FCS opponents. For Georgia, the biggest piece of the pie is the 'W' making the team bowl eligible for a possible berth in the Birmingham Bowl or the Music City Bowl. With the season the way it has been, Streit is right, its a 'Lose, lose' situation overall. Winning at Auburn and becoming bowl eligible will help ease the sting of a mediocre season for the Dawgs knowing they have a New Year's game on the horizon heading into the game with Tech. The added bonus will be beating a top-ranked Auburn team for a 5th consecutive year, and giving the team a signature win. A loss on the Plains will all but seal the fate of the Dawgs for the season, and send Georgia home to Athens to face Buzz in a last-ditch effort to become bowl eligible and finish what would be arguably be the worst season under Richt. UGA has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Auburn will come into this meeting ranked #2 in the country, 10-0 and 1st in the SEC overall. The Tigers lead this series all time 53-52-8. However, we have lost the past 4 meetings to the Dawgs, and a 5th will even the win column for UGA. But the bigger issue is what the loss will do to the Tiger's hopes of a shot at the SEC Championship and a potential National Title game appearance. Should the Tigers lose, we will have one week to recover, not just in preparation for the Iron Bowl with a two-loss Bama, but also in the polls. The voters are already overlooking this game, and losing to UGA would be viewed as a loss to a much weaker opponent, which would most likely send Auburn out of the top 5 or even top 10. Even if Auburn were to beat a ranked Bama at that point, we'd still lose out on reaching the title game to a Oregon, Boise or TCU who would leap frog us during our bye week.
I'm not looking past UGA. Despite the play of the Dawgs so far this season, they've shown absolute flashes of brilliance. AJ Green's first game back showed their is potential for the offense as long as the play makers are given the chance to work their magic, something forgotten in the Florida game. AJ is 3rd on the team for receiving yards, but 1st for receiving touchdowns. Simply put, if he is in the end zone, toss the ball up and let AJ climb the ladder to score. Aaron Murray has shown his freshman inexperience several times, however, he has demonstrated an athletic ability to escape a bad situation by using his legs, even scoring touchdowns in the process. He has over 2000 yards of passing with 15 TDs to show, not to mention 4 rushing TDs. Aaron has 3 receivers with over 1200 receiving yards combined to use against a very weak secondary. Georgia has to be creative in this game offensively get the ball to the play makers in order to have a shot at putting up points to counter the #2 ranked offense.
Auburn has to look for ways to protect Cam Newton, Ontario McCalebb, and Mike Dyer from UGA's improving defense. Averaging 200 passing and 300 yards rushing per game, Auburn's Gus Malzahn has consistently found ways to counter defenses and rushes to keep Auburn in the fight with a balanced attack. The offensive line is fast and physical, allowing only 12 sacks. They key to this game for Auburn, as it has been all season, is play count. In Gus Malzahn's offensive scheme, the team must execute at least 86 plays for a win. I'm not going to put it past Georgia to pull an upset, especially with the history behind the meetings of these two teams. So long as Cam can keep the ball moving down field, and continue to make plays while using his weapons in Michael Dyer, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary, Auburn may walk away from this dangerous fight.
This annual grudge match is slated to kick-off at 3:30 eastern and air on CBS. UGA should prepare for this game as thought it will be their bowl game, because the atmosphere at Jordan-Hare will the most intense they've faced all season. It might also be the closest thing they get to a bowl game atmosphere should they lose. Auburn fans will be amped up to see if their Heisman contending QB, Cam Newton, will be able to keep the dream alive and send Auburn into the Iron Bowl as the undefeated leader of the SEC in addition to being the SEC West champion. This game holds everything for both teams; a bowl eligible win for UGA and saving grace for Richt, and for the Tigers a chance at continued perfection keeping the dream season alive in hopes of an SEC championship and National Title. This is my favorite game of the season every year. Whichever way the game goes, I plan to be there to see it all.
I will be back later this week to recap the BnE Pick 'Em after my bye week from reporting.