That distinction belongs to the 20-17 scrolling across the bottom of their TV screens this morning. As in, Auburn 20, Florida 17. The Gators were No. 4 in the country and were emerging as the heavy favorite to win the Eastern Division. Now, the division can be declared up-for-grabs again.
“It probably makes everybody think it’s more of a free-for-all than it was,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I think everybody feels like they have a realistic chance, and they do.”
Georgia, which is 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC after Saturday’s 45-17 win over Ole Miss, is accustomed to watching the scoreboard at this point in the season. What is unique about this season is how many scores the Bulldogs will have to keep up with. Every team in the Eastern Division save Kentucky has one conference loss.
“It’s not the top two or three (this year),” Richt said. “Everybody is keeping close eyes (on the scoreboard). Now we’re kind of getting into the meat of it. Just about every week from here on in we’re playing each other, so we’re going to learn a lot.”
The best example of that is the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 8 Kentucky and No. 11 South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., will take the division lead.
The separation between the leagues traditional haves and have-nots is small this season, as the Rebels proved by pushing Georgia around for the three quarters. The Bulldogs were being outplayed until scoring 28 straight points in the final 18:30.
“When everyone plays together, it makes it hard to stop us,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “You don’t know who to shut down. If you key on Thomas (Brown) or Knowshon (Moreno) or the receivers, we have other options. This is a good win, it gives us some momentum going into Tennessee.
The Bulldogs play the Volunteers (2-2, 0-1) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee, which has the conference’s most potent passing attack (285.8 yards per game) but its worst scoring defense (37.5 points allowed per game), will have had two weeks to prepare of the game thanks to its open date on Saturday.
Georgia, which hasn’t lose to Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., since 1999, won’t have to worry about scoreboard watching anymore if it doesn’t come away with a victory.
“Only time will tell if (this game) eliminates somebody, but whoever does lose the game I don’t feel like they’ll say, ‘We’re out of it men. Let’s start thinking about our other goals.’ That will not happen because of the mathematics of it all are still there,” Richt said. “It would definitely be a blow, though.” Last year’s Tennessee game was a devastating blow for the Bulldogs. They led 24-7 late in the first half but eventually lost 51-33 and went on to lose three of their next four games.
“That loss certainly stung us pretty good,” Richt said, “and we didn’t recover quickly enough to win some games.”