Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks with Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) in the huddle during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Georgia Tech and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Georgia won 37-14.

News Joshua L Jones

No. 1 Georgia zeroes in on now, not next

Winning the SEC championship game Saturday guarantees Georgia a return trip to the College Football Playoff semifinals and a relative home game for the chance to play for the national title for the second time in as many seasons.

But the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs balance that forward glance with the reality check of what could happen if No. 14 LSU pulls the upset at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to rearrange the final CFP rankings.

“There’s no thought of the next step,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s such a long break between this step and next step. This is the culmination of a season. The next opportunity, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The Bulldogs (12-0, 8-0 SEC) haven’t lost since the 2021 SEC Championship game, when Alabama needed a win to reach the semifinals and walked away with a 41-24 victory over Georgia.

LSU won five games in a row and climbed to No. 5 in the CFP rankings before losing to Texas A&M last week. The Tigers lost to Florida State in their season opener and to Tennessee on Oct. 8, then didn’t play to their season-long standard against the Aggies. LSU’s John Emery Jr. ran for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.

Smart said the Tigers are more than capable of fitting the bill as spoilers. LSU’s marquee win this season was a 32-31 overtime thriller on Nov. 5 that sent Alabama into the national title picture periphery.

“They got a lot of talent, a lot of really fast, athletic players,” Smart said. “The skill level on both sides of the ball for them, great size, great speed. They got one of the most physical offensive lines we’ve played.”

Georgia has a lot of talent even after losing several starters to the NFL draft. The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense at 11.33 points per game and have won every game this season by at least a touchdown. The Bulldogs are giving up 2.97 yards per carry and are second in the nation with 79.5 rushing yards per game allowed.

The Tigers avoided a change at quarterback this week despite starter Jayden Daniels being banged up by the Texas A&M defense.

“He’s good to go,” Kelly said of Daniels, an Arizona State transfer who has 15 touchdowns and two interceptions this season.

LSU coach Brian Kelly, formerly of Notre Dame, faces Kirby Smart for the third time and is 0-2. This is the fifth time Georgia and LSU are meeting for the SEC title.

“We’re going to play a physical football team that has the style of its head coach. They’re going to play great defense. They’re going to be physical on both sides of the ball,” Kelly said. “I mean, everything’s going to come very difficult. Nothing’s going to be easy. You’re going to have to earn everything. Quite frankly, that’s the exciting part about it. You know what you’re going to get. … It doesn’t get any better than this.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2022; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) passes the ball against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Georgia focuses on SEC title in matchup with No. 14 LSU

Georgia almost certainly is going to the College Football Playoff regardless of what happens in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Saturday in Atlanta.

LSU is not going to the CFP regardless of what happens in the SEC Championship Game.

Nonetheless, the No. 1 Bulldogs (12-0, 8-0 SEC), champions of the East Division, and the No. 14 Tigers (9-3, 6-2), champions of the West Division, both have a lot to gain by winning on Saturday — a significant trophy and momentum going into whatever their next destination is.

The situation is very similar to the one Georgia faced last season when it was undefeated and No. 1 as it faced Alabama. The Bulldogs figured to go to the CFP even if they lost. The Crimson Tide needed to win to get in, and they played like it, upsetting the Bulldogs 41-24.

However, Georgia shook off the loss and took care of business in the CFP, beating Michigan in the semifinals and winning a rematch with Alabama for the national championship.

“We’re worried about winning the SEC championship,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. “That’s the most important thing on our agenda. It’s tough to win an SEC championship. I’ve been part of this league for a long time. I have almost as many national championships as I do SEC championships.”

Georgia has not lost since last season’s SEC championship game. Only one of the Bulldogs’ games this season was decided by a touchdown or less — a 26-22 victory at Missouri on Oct. 1.

A victory on Saturday would give Georgia a chance to accomplish something even last year’s team didn’t — an undefeated national championship season.

“It’s not about last year’s team or a comparison,” Smart said. “It’s about that next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever. It’s an SEC championship. I think our players take a lot of pride in that.”

LSU, in its first season under former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, was in strong contention for a CFP berth before being upset by unranked Texas A&M 38-23 in its regular-season finale.

“We’ve had certainly some bumps in the road, but we’ve had some great achievements in developing our program here in the first year,” Kelly said. “Our football team has gotten better as the season has gone along.

“This is a great challenge, but one that we’re excited about. We want to be able to represent the SEC West and certainly play to our standard.”

The Tigers, who lost to Florida State in their season opener and to Tennessee on Oct. 1, didn’t play to their season-long standard against the Aggies. LSU’s John Emery Jr. ran for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.

That loss dropped them nine spots in the CFP rankings Tuesday night, though they can still earn a substantial bowl berth by winning Saturday.

“This group has a lot of fight,” Kelly said. “That’s why they’ll go to Atlanta, and they will fight, and they will play hard for four quarters, and they will give everything they have against a very talented Georgia team.”

The Tigers will attempt to slow a Bulldogs passing attack led by quarterback Stetson Bennett (3,151 yards, 16 touchdowns, six interceptions).

–Field Level Media

Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) celebrates after getting his first career touchdown during the first half of a NCAA college football game between Charleston Southern and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Georgia won 56-7.

News Joshua L Jones

Nothing else matters for No. 1 Georgia: ‘Win this game’

The way Georgia nose guard Jordan Davis sees it, nothing the undefeated Bulldogs have done this season matters.

The 12 previous wins, including the last 11 by at least 17 points? Doesn’t count for anything.

The defense’s dominating performance that rivals that of any unit in recent history, if not ever? Meaningless.

The best regular season in school history? That’s exactly what it is — history.

The current 16-game winning streak that’s the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision? Throw it out the window.

“Look, we want to go 1-0, we want to make sure that we win this game,” Davis said. “This is the game we need to have and we’re going to prepare like champions.”

But this game isn’t just any other game. Not for Georgia (12-0), not for No. 3 Alabama (11-1). And certainly not for at least the half dozen teams whose standing with the College Football Playoff selection committee will be impacted by which team leaves Atlanta with the Southeastern Conference trophy on Saturday evening.

It’s simple for Georgia and Alabama — the winner will make the playoffs. But if Alabama loses to Georgia for the first time in seven meetings, the Crimson Tide could very well be left out of the four-team field, its run as national champion over.

Georgia is likely headed to the playoffs with a loss, as it is the lone Power 5 team that finished the regular season with an unblemished record.

The significance of a Georgia win over Alabama can’t be overstated. The Bulldogs have lost two SEC title games and a national championship game to the Crimson Tide since the start of Alabama’s streak over Georgia in 2008.

The teams last met in the 2020 regular season, with Alabama overcoming a 24-20 halftime deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the second half to rally for a 41-24 win.

But so much has changed since that night.

Alabama had eight players — quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DeVonta Smith, receiver Jaylen Waddle, offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson, cornerback Patrick Surtain and defensive tackle Christian Barmore — taken in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. Guard Deonte Brown and long snapper Thomas Fletcher got picked in the sixth round.

Georgia lost several key players, but only one first-round pick (cornerback Eric Stokes) and two second-round picks (cornerback Tyson Campbell and linebacker Azeez Ojulari).

Now, Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite against the Crimson Tide, who haven’t been this much of an underdog since Florida and Tim Tebow were 10-point favorites in the 2008 SEC title game, which Florida won 31-20.

Still, Alabama has averaged 42.7 points this year — two more than Georgia — behind Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Young (3,901 yards, 40 TDs, 4 INTs), receivers Jameson Williams (1,261 yards, 13 TDs) and John Metchie (1,045 yards, 7 TDs) and running back Brian Robinson (1,016 yards, 14 TDs).

However, Robinson’s status for Saturday is uncertain after suffering a lower-body pulled muscle in the four-overtime win over Auburn last week. If Robinson can’t play, it will be up to Trey Sanders, who was held for 23 yards on 10 carries by Auburn, to power the ground game. Sanders has rushed for 221 yards and two scores on 50 carries this season.

“I just feel like it’s going to be a tremendous challenge to play against them,” Davis said. “They’re big. We’re big. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got, and I hope they give us their best shot. They have a great unit.”

While the Bulldogs haven’t faced an offense nearly as explosive as Alabama’s, the Crimson Tide haven’t faced a defense that’s even close to being on par with Georgia’s because there isn’t one.

Georgia has allowed 83 points this season, an average of 6.9 points per game. The Bulldogs could have given up twice as many points this season and still be ahead of second-place Clemson, which allowed 180 (15 ppg).

The Bulldogs are also first in total defense (230.8 ypg) and red zone defense (54.5 percent), second in passing yards allowed (151.9 pg) and total first downs allowed (160), in addition to being third in rushing defense (78.9 ypg).

But Young isn’t fazed.

“I have confidence in my guys,” he said. “We all understand what it’s going to take. We all know offensively how good they are on defense.

“It’s a new chapter. It’s a new book for us. So we have to make sure we’re ready this week and that’s all we’re concerned with.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second quarter at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Alabama, No. 7 Florida set for SEC title game

Marco Wilson’s thrown shoe was as much metaphor as cause.

Florida’s hopes at qualifying for the College Football Playoff were in peril before the defensive back heaved opposing tight end Kole Taylor’s footwear 20 yards downfield to celebrate a third-down stop late last week against heavy underdog LSU.

The ensuing 15-yard penalty kept alive a drive that ended in a 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds left and snapped a 34-34 tie. When the Gators’ Evan McPherson’s 51-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired, so had the team’s chances of playing for a national title.

Final score: LSU 37, Florida 34.

Now Florida faces as tough of a bounceback as can be imagined. Without the national title in sight, the No. 7 Gators (8-2, 8-2 SEC) have to match up with top-ranked Alabama (10-0, 10-0) in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday night in Atlanta.

While keyboard jockeys and social media warriors heaped blame on Wilson, his teammates knew better. After all, Florida offset 609 yards of offense with three crucial turnovers, including a pick-six, and gave up 418 yards to a team using its backup quarterback.

“Turning the ball over that many times, it’s hard to win games,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “I take full responsibility. I just got to play cleaner. It’s not the way you want to go out as your last home game in the Swamp.”

For the Gators to have a chance at beating the Crimson Tide, Trask will have to eliminate the turnovers and play perhaps his best game. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s single-season school record for touchdown passes last week with his 40th, a mark made more impressive because Trask did it in 10 games.

The hardest part for Trask might be trying to match Alabama’s Mac Jones, who may enter this game as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Even after a low-key performance (208 yards passing, no scores) in a 52-3 rout at Arkansas last week, Jones’ numbers this season are video-game quality: 3,321 yards passing, 76.4 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, three interceptions.

While a cynic might say that throwing to the likes of DeVonta Smith and John Metchie — and handing off to Najee Harris — could make any quarterback productive, the fact is that the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense from last year has skipped zero beats with Jones running it.

The moniker “game manager” has been used to describe Jones, and he doesn’t disagree with it.

“Nothing is really offensive about it,” he told “I mean, I try to manage the game. It’s kind of my job to do that. Honestly, I have a lot of great players around me, so that’s my job – to get them the ball.”

Smith (83 catches, 1,327 yards, 15 TDs) and Metchie (40-720-6) have more than made up for the absence of big-play threat Jaylen Waddle, who was averaging 140 yards per game before suffering a season-ending injury while returning the opening kickoff Oct. 24 at Tennessee.

The Tide enters the title game averaging 49.5 points and 537.8 yards per game, No. 3 and No. 5 in the nation, respectively.

–Field Level Media