SEC Championship Game Preview: It Just Means … Less?

SEC Championship Game Preview

There’s just a little less buzz than normal around the Southeastern Conference Championship Game this Saturday in Atlanta. In four of the previous five Championship Games, both teams entered the contest ranked in the top six in the College Football Playoff rankings. In three of the previous four, both teams entered the game in the top four in the penultimate CFP rankings. But with LSU’s loss last week to a listless Texas A&M team and Georgia seemingly a lock for the CFP, there’s not as much drama around the game as normal.

SEC Championship Game Preview: It Just Means … Less?

Make no mistake, however, that there is plenty left to play for. To begin with, the SEC is still the best conference in college football and every player from Columbia to Gainesville wants to hang a conference title on the stadium walls.

Dawg Walk

For Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, they will lock up the CFP top seed and get their CFP Semifinal in the same stadium, a short drive away from campus. And for Smart and the Bulldogs, it serves to ease some of the disappointment from last year’s Championship Game loss to Alabama. That was Georgia’s only blemish in its first championship season in 40 years. The only way Georgia can top last season’s success is an unblemished championship. This game also serves as another step in Georgia’s ascension to the throne as the Kings of College Football.

Tigers Lurking 

For Brian Kelly and LSU, a championship would cap off a surprising season in a statement for the future. It would also ease the pain from the disappointment of their loss to Texas A&M. There’s not a lot of movement likely from a bowl perspective. Because of Bowl contracts, LSU won’t make a New Year’s Six even with a win on Saturday, and Georgia won’t fall out of the Top Four even with a loss.

Kelly will be looking at the long game. There’s talent on the Tigers, but LSU desperately needs the depth of talent they’ve had in previous championship runs. A win on Saturday will have an immediate impact as the Transfer Portal opens (officially) on Monday.

Game Preview

Game: SEC Championship Game, #1 Georgia vs. #14 LSU
Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
Coverage: CBS
Odds: UGA -17.5, O/U 51

Regardless of the expectations and regardless of the lack of consequences, there’s still a game to be played. And, with Georgia playing to the level of their competition all season, the outcome might not be a foregone conclusion. There will be three key things to look for as the Bulldawgs and Tigers go for the conference crown.

Georgia Handling Their Business

Despite losing 15 – FIFTEEN – players from last season’s championship team, Georgia is still the more talented team in this game by a comfortable margin. Stetson Bennett leads the nation’s 12th ranked offense with running back Kenny McIntosh, receiver Ladd McConkey, and Brock Bowers, one the nation’s best tight ends, presenting match-up problems at almost every position.

As impressive as that is, the defense is even better. Kirby Smart’s defense is tops in the nation in scoring defense. They are allowing 11.3 points per game this season. That includes holding Heisman Hopefuls Bo Nix and Hendon Hooker to three and 13 points respectively.

The concern with Georgia is that they don’t always handle their business. They didn’t look overly impressive in a 37-22 win against 5-7 Kent State. They needed a late touchdown to escape at Missouri, 26-22. A struggling Kentucky team hung around in a 16-6 Georgia win. And Georgia Tech looked their equal for the first half in Athens last week.

When Georgia wants to flex their muscle, they look like the best team in the nation. But they’ve played down to their competition a few times this season. They’ll need to play up to their standards, not to LSU’s level, from the start on Saturday.

Jayden Daniels

The biggest variable in Saturday’s game will be LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels and the health of his ankle. After a tepid start to the season, Daniels scorched Florida and Ole Miss and lead the Tigers to an upset of Alabama. Daniels has four games of 275 yards of passing or more and three games with 100 yards rushing. If LSU has any chance to win the game, Daniels’ ankle needs to be ready to go against the nation’s best defense, both in the pocket and on the run.

Georgia shut down both Nix and Hooker, so Kelly and his staff will have to figure out how to get Daniels’ talents unleashed against Smart and his imposing defense.

LSU’s Defensive Front

The last big variable going into Saturday’s game is LSU’s defensive front. Defensive end BJ Ojulari and Linebacker Harold Perkins, Jr. must put pressure on the Georgia offense all game. If Stetson Bennett has time to find Bowers across the middle or McConkey downfield, he’s shown that he can deliver time and time again. Defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo must plug up the middle and help slow down a Georgia rushing attack as well. The worst thing that can happen for LSU is for Georgia to establish a dominant rushing attack and then get up by two scores.

The Last Word

This game might not mean as much nationally or as much as it has in the past, but it is still the marquee game for the marquee conference in college football. And it absolutely means more to every player that trots onto the field Saturday afternoon.

All the pressure is on Georgia, and that’s O.K. Kirby Smart is the best coach in college football right now and his team will be prepared to handle that pressure. The nation’s best scoring defense and a top-15 offense, with an injured Daniels and an LSU defense that still needs a few pieces to round things out is not a good combination.

The Dawgs march to another conference title in impressive fashion.

Georgia   34
LSU           17

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