Richt the Story in Rivalries

Last year’s story: Auburn down 21-7 to a motivated UGA team early in a huge rivalry game. They turn it on to stay undefeated behind alleged at best pay-for-play quarterback Cam Newton and certifiably dirty late hitting D-lineman Nick Fairley. Then trailing Bama 24-0, they do it again and play for it all and survive Oregon to win the national title.

This year’s game has one arching story: that of embattled Georgia head football coach Mark Richt. Coming off a 6-7 campaign, his only losing season in ten years at the helm of the football team of America’s oldest public state university. Having dropped two games to start a 2011 campaign highlighted by hot seat rumors and a less than usually rigorous conference schedule, Richt sits on the precipice of his first SEC East title since the year D.J. Shockley shocked LSU to win the conference. Richt won at Tennessee against the then leading quarterback in the conference. And he won at Jacksonville against a senior quarterback 1-0 versus UGA as a starter, to a program which had beaten UGA 18 of 21 times. He survived and mostly thrived by leading with discipline and a clearly level head and composed steady hand. Georgia has beaten everyone they were supposed to beat. And should win out.

At #15 in the BCS and set to face the #20 and #21 teams in the BCS, much still remains to be proven. Auburn and Tech would be the best two teams Georgia has beaten over at least two seasons. If this team is as improved as it appears, Georgia will beat a young Auburn team with the 11th-ranked defense in the SEC. UGA’s D is ranked 7th nationally. The Kentucky game in Athens would become nothing but a celebration and build-up to Tech. Win the Tech game and Richt will have these accomplishments: 10 of 11 versus Tech; a current 5 of 6 versus Auburn; a winning record against every SEC school except Florida and a clear current edge over them as a football program. Win the next game in the Georgia Dome and Richt will again be a champion and perhaps the National Coach of the Year. Lose any but that game and there will be somewhat deserved major derision amongst the emotional fan base. Richt is 2-1 in SEC title games; 7-3 in bowl games; 2-1 in BCS bowls. And this game is all about him.