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SEC Championship Game 2017: Early Preview, Predictions for Georgia vs. Auburn

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 26, 2017

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25:  Nick Ruffin #19 and Stephen Roberts #14 of the Auburn Tigers celebrate after the victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The rematch between Georgia and Auburn is set. 

After the Tigers knocked off No. 1 Alabama in Week 13, they earned a trip to Atlanta to take on the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for what will act as a de facto College Football Playoff quarterfinal. 

Auburn handed Georgia its only loss of the season by way of a 40-17 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 11. 

Not only will the Bulldogs be looking for revenge, but they'll be searching for a berth in either the Rose or Sugar Bowl as one of the four playoff semifinalists. 

Head coach Kirby Smart and Co., who were ranked at the top of the playoff standings before the defeat to Auburn, passed their final test of the regular season in Week 13 against rival Georgia Tech.

In the 38-7 win over the Yellow Jackets, quarterback Jake Fromm threw for 224 yards, which was his highest total and the first time he reached over 200 yards passing since his 326-yard output against Missouri on October 14. 

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 18: Jake Fromm #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs rolls out on a pass play during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

"Offensively we've grown," Smart said, per Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think Jake's gotten better. We're certainly trying to improve the passing game, as everyone knows."

The Bulldogs defense also limited an opponent to a maximum of 10 points for the sixth time this season Saturday. Three of those performances came against teams with winning records, while the others came against Florida, Georgia Tech and Tennessee.

In addition to a strong performance from Fromm and the defense, the Bulldogs will need running back duo Nick Chubb and Sony Michel's best efforts when they head to Atlanta.

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 18: Nick Chubb #27 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs for a touchdown during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Both Chubb and Michel had their worst games of the season in Auburn on November 11, as the former was limited to 27 yards and the latter only recorded 21 yards on the ground. But you have to think at least one of the pair will have a big game the second time around versus Auburn.

After all, we're talking about the second- and third-best rushers in Georgia history behind Herschel Walker. Chubb was already locked into second entering Week 13, and Michel jumped over Todd Gurley on Saturday for third, per WSB's Anthony Amey:

Anthony Amey @AnthonyAmeyWSB

Sony Michel passed Todd Gurley in that 1st half for 3rd place all-time in #UGA career rushing yards. Top 3 now: Herschel, Chubb, Sony. #UGAvsGT #GoDawgs https://t.co/FhkbxPUlH5

After falling to LSU on October 14, the Tigers reeled off five straight victories, including two wins over top-ranked teams Georgia and Alabama. The win over Georgia boosted Gus Malzahn's team into the playoff conversation as a two-loss team, and it solidified that position with the win over Alabama.

As one would expect, Malzahn said the Tigers are playing their best football of the season, per ESPN's Chris Low:

Chris Low @ClowESPN

Malzahn said very few teams are playing their best football this time of year “but we are.”

Malzahn and his players also enjoyed a moment in the locker room after the win over Alabama, stating where they think they belong in the rankings, per USA Today's George Schroeder

George Schroeder @GeorgeSchroeder

Gus Malzahn in the locker room: “I want y’all to enjoy this. Five weeks ago they had y’all dead and buried. Y’all just played two No. 1 teams in 3 weeks. Nobody else can say that.” A player: “We’re No. 1!” Malzahn: “We’re No. 1!” https://t.co/wT0tlzFe6D

Regardless of where you believe the Tigers should be ranked, they are deserving of being in the top four entering the SEC Championship Game. But in order to stay there when the final rankings are released, they will have to replicate the game plan from November 11 and throw a few new twists into their preparation.

The atmosphere will also be different than the original meeting since the SEC Championship Game will take place on a neutral field. Both of Auburn's losses have come on the road, and they gave up 20 and 27 points to Arkansas and Texas A&M, respectively, in their final two road games of the regular season.

However, the biggest hindrance on Auburn's aspirations in December and January may be the health of running back Kerryon Johnson, who was hurt in the second half of the win over Alabama.

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 25:  Kerryon Johnson #21 of the Auburn Tigers receives treatment from a trainer after suffering an injury during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Ph
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No update was provided on Johnson's status after the game, and the worst-case scenario is Auburn will have to replace a player who ran for 100 yards in seven of his past eight games and pushed himself to the edge of the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Obviously, Johnson's status changes a few things when it comes to the prediction business, but there's still plenty to base a projection off, including the November 11 meeting.

Georgia has been consistent for most of the season, but Auburn's played a better schedule and is battle-tested in big games.

Prediction: Auburn 21, Georgia 20

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

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