At the beginning of the season, the Georgia Bulldogs were supposed to contend for a BCS National Championship and Gus Malzahn was hoping to rebuild the Auburn Tigers into a respectable football program.
Neither squad has adhered to its respective presupposition.
For Georgia, injuries and youth derailed the season. Auburn, however, has surpassed all prognostication and is very much in the national title picture at 8-1.
In more ways than one, this game is microcosmic of the Bulldogs' bad luck and the Tigers' good fortune this year.
Much of Auburn’s success can be tied to the emergence of quarterback Nick Marshall. Marshall, of course, initially played at Georgia as a defensive back. Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham recently told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph that Marshall had the skills to make an impact as a cornerback.
He’s not only missed within Georgia’s defense, but he’s now the catalyst for an Auburn offense that is averaging 38.6 points per game.
Even the location of this game took a fortuitous turn in favor of the Tigers. When the Southeastern Conference’s schedule was reworked, Auburn remained on the slate as the Bulldogs’ permanent cross-division rival.
The location for this year’s game was altered, though, and as a result Georgia has to travel to Auburn for a second consecutive season.
Fortunately for Georgia, the Bulldogs have an opportunity to disrupt another team’s BCS hopes this weekend by defeating a team that has fallen victim to the Dawgs more often than not as of late. The Bulldogs have won six of the last seven games in this rivalry dating back to 2006, with a lone exception in the winning streak being a Cam Newton-fueled Auburn win in 2010.
Georgia fans are all too familiar with one-sided supremacy within the context of a bitter rivalry. Unfortunately, for the better part of two decades, the Dawgs were on the wrong side of the scale in relation to the Florida Gators.
While the Bulldogs’ current reign over Auburn lacks the tenure of that dynamic, there are certainly some similarities—namely Georgia’s ability to win against Auburn regardless of outside circumstance.
Three of Georgia’s last six wins against Auburn were on the road. On two occasions, Auburn boasted a better record heading into the game and Georgia came away with a victory. Twice, Auburn was ranked in the Top 25 and still lost to Georgia.
In this exasperatingly even cross-divisional rivalry—the series is tied at 54 wins and eight ties for each team—the Bulldogs have managed to completely seize control.
A mental edge accompanies that success.
Georgia is taking this game seriously, and the opportunity to stop Marshall is undoubtedly adding to the Bulldogs’ focus. "It's going to be a challenge," Grantham told ESPN.com’s David Ching. "They’re believing and they’re playing with confidence right now.”
Quite understandably, Georgia also has a profound sense of confidence that stems directly from recent success heading into this game. After all, Georgia has won the last two matchups by a combined score of 83-7.
However, Georgia fans know how quickly momentum in a rivalry can shift. The Georgia/Florida feud is heading in a decisively different direction than it was just three short years ago. Accordingly, the current trend in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry could be reversed at any time—maybe even as soon as Saturday.
A Georgia win, though, provides some solace for disappointed Georgia fans in the form of yet another victory over a rival—the Dawgs have already knocked off South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida.
An Auburn loss effectively ends the Tigers’ loftiest target: a BCS National Championship. After so much recent heartache, the Bulldogs would love to end someone else’s dream for a change.
If recent history and the momentum it has generated come into play, the Bulldogs will get that chance on Saturday.
It doesn't matter where the game is played or that Auburn is ranked seventh and Georgia barely cracks the Top 25. What matters is that Georgia expects to win this game, and for the seventh time in the last eight years, the Bulldogs can claim a victory over the Tigers.