There’s no disputing Georgia’s place among the blue bloods of College Football. They have the tradition: a national title and a Heisman trophy. They have the fanbase, and they’ve been quite good for many, many years now. They are clearly a Top 20 program, but they aren’t elite.
There are only a few programs who have made it to the top, winning major conference titles and playing for National Championships. Alabama is elite, Auburn, too. LSU, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State and Oregon are all on the list. Georgia is not.
For all of the success under Mark Richt the Bulldogs haven’t played for a national championship. They haven’t won the SEC in 10 years. Make no mistake; they are a very good program, but for some reason or another they’ve never been able to make the leap to elite.
During the recent rein of the SEC, and for most of Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has been the class of the conference and the nation. They won three titles in four years and played for another in the playoff last season. For another SEC team to join the ranks of the Elite, you have to go through Alabama.
For the last six years, Alabama has represented the SEC in the National Title game or the playoff four of those years. The other two years the conference’s representative was Auburn. How did Auburn get there? They beat Alabama.
Georgia’s had their shots to break through against Alabama. In 2008, Georgia began the season as the #1 team in the country. The Bulldogs won their first four games and were undefeated when #8 Alabama rolled into town. Sanford Stadium was blacked out for the game. The Crimson Tide led 31-0 at halftime before cruising to a 41-30 victory. The Bulldogs’ attempt to join the elite was stopped that night.
In 2012 an 11-1 Georgia team met Alabama in Atlanta for the SEC title and a likely game against Notre Dame for the national title. A win against Alabama would be the more difficult of the two challenges, but the Bulldogs fell short. Another shot against Alabama to move to the realm of the elite gone by.
For the first time since the 2008 and 2012 teams, a Georgia has a team on the verge of becoming Elite. The Bulldogs have been virtually unchallenged. They weren’t crisp against Vanderbilt, but that didn’t matter. They were sharp against nemesis Steve Spurrier and South Carolina and turned the game into a laugher winning 52-20.
Alabama looks human again. After last season’s disappointing loss to Ohio State and this season’s game against Ole Miss, suddenly the crew in Tuscaloosa seems very beatable. The question marks at quarterback and a defense that gave up so many points to the Rebels have helped shake the aura of invincibility that seemed to cloak the Crimson Tide.
This is Georgia’s opportunity. With Greyson Lambert seeming to provide a capable hand at quarterback, the last piece of the puzzle has been put in place. The defense exudes talent and is being properly guided by Jeremy Pruitt. The offense, always a rushing power, is balanced and being coordinated better by Brian Schottenheimer than by former OC Mike Bobo.
If Georgia can win at home against Alabama, they won’t be able to cruise, but they should expect to be favorites in every game until Atlanta. No one in the East figures to pose much of a problem, and Auburn isn’t looking like they are going to ruin anyone’s season.
At the end of the year Georgia will have to play in Atlanta against a good Georgia Tech team. Then they are likely going down the street to play in the SEC Championship game. Depending on the rest of the country they may not even need to win that game to make the Playoff.
Of course, all these lofty plans are predicated on the Bulldogs’ ability to get past Alabama. Georgia has to defeat the gate keepers if they want to join the ranks of college football’s elite. They’ve been on the cusp before and have failed to break through. This weekend is a massive opportunity.