Paschall: Bulldogs seek to reverse their SEC title-game fortunes

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp presents Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart with the Governor’s Cup after Saturday’s 37-14 win over Georgia Tech in Sanford Stadium.

The Georgia Bulldogs won the first Southeastern Conference championship game in its current home of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, breaking free from Auburn 28-7 in 2017.

Most of Georgia's appearances have not gone as well, however, as the Bulldogs are just 2-6 in their other eight early December trips to Atlanta. That includes losses to Alabama in 2018 and to LSU in 2019 that ended Georgia's chances at a College Football Playoff bid, and it includes last year's 41-24 loss to Alabama that served as the lone blemish for the Bulldogs in their national championship run.

Not that last year's outcome is motivating Kirby Smart's top-ranked Bulldogs (12-0) as they prepare for this weekend's matchup with No. 11 LSU (9-3), the surprising Western Division winner that stumbled Saturday night 38-23 at Texas A&M.

"It's the next game, and for us, it's been all about the next one all year," Smart said Sunday afternoon. "The great teams worry about the next one more than the last one."

That's not to say Smart is downplaying the reward in winning a conference crown that has proven to be somewhat elusive for the Bulldogs, especially compared to LSU, which has won five league championships this century. In fact, just mention the motivation angle of Georgia being in the CFP field for a second straight year regardless of Saturday's outcome.

"We're worried about winning the SEC championship," he said. "That's the most important thing on our agenda. They have an opportunity to do something that rarely is done. It's tough to win an SEC championship. I've been part of this league for a long time, and I have almost as many national championships as I do SEC championships.

"They are really hard to come by, so we're focused on LSU."

The Tigers have overachieved in Brian Kelly's first season and will head to Atlanta with quarterback Jayden Daniels coming off an ankle injury against the Aggies.

"We kept Jayden in a boot for today, but his exam was good," Kelly said. "We're pretty optimistic about his ability to practice on Tuesday. It wasn't a high-ankle sprain, and those are the things you concern yourself with, because that's going to limit his ability.

"He's going to need to obviously have all of his mobility and more, and early indications look good."


This is a fairly significant week for the Muschamp family.

Two days before Georgia co-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will look to help slow LSU's offense inside Mercedes-Benz, younger son Whit will quarterback Baylor School in Thursday night's Division II-AAA BlueCross Bowl championship game against Montgomery Bell Academy inside Finley Stadium.

"It's what you do this profession for, to have the relationships you have and to be able to be a father," Smart said. "I think Will does a tremendous job of balancing that. It's not a new thing for him. He's been a head coach at two SEC programs and has been part of a lot of really good programs, and he's been a father while doing it.

"Getting to watch his sons play has been a very important part for him, and he's done a great job of managing that. Hopefully he'll be able to watch him play this week, because he's gone to see him at least three or four times this year."

Thursday's title contest is a rematch of MBA's 42-34 win in Nashville on Oct. 21, when the Red Raiders junior threw four touchdown passes in a losing cause. There have been plenty of late Friday nights the past few weeks for the older Muschamp, but Smart said that's often the case with his assistants due to recruiting.

"We have coaches who go out during the season, so it's very commonplace for guys to do that," Smart said. "He's done it probably a little more just to be able to watch Whit play."


So much for South Carolina being this month's one-hit wonder.

The Gamecocks were 6-4 and trending in the wrong direction when they abruptly reversed course and closed out the regular season with a 63-38 thrashing of Tennessee and with Saturday's 31-30 upset at Clemson.

"It was unbelievable mental toughness by our team," Gamecocks second-year coach Shane Beamer said after prevailing in Death Valley. "We were the feel-good story in college football last week, but nobody thought we were good enough to win this game. We were the team that just kind of caught lightning in a bottle last week and that there was no way we could come back and do it again.

"One of the commentators on ABC said that Clemson really needed a big win today and needed the style points for the playoff. Clemson just needed to win, because the group we had coming in here was very confident."

Speaking of the playoff, the Gamecocks have knocked off the No. 5 and No. 8 teams in the CFP standings the past two weeks.

"We're in our own version of the College Football Playoff," Beamer said.


Mississippi State's 24-22 topping of No. 20 Ole Miss in last Thursday night's Egg Bowl was Mike Leach's 18th career win as the coach of an unranked team over a team ranked in the AP Top 25, which is the most of any coach in the poll era that began in 1936.

Seven of those victories have transpired in his three seasons with the Bulldogs, who moved back into the rankings Sunday at No. 25.


Despite its upset over LSU on Saturday night, Texas A&M endured its first losing season as an SEC member. Aggies fifth-year coach Jimbo Fisher was asked where that performance had been all season.

"It's young guys and growing and developing," Fisher said. "It's there, and it's going to be there. There is nothing wrong with what we're doing and how we're doing it. Our kids just relaxed and played, and they grew up.

"We had injuries and young guys all year. That's not an excuse. These are the facts of life. In this game, we finally put it together for 60 minutes. It's that simple."


Although the Florida-Florida State rivalry Friday night provided a competitive 45-38 thriller won by the Seminoles in Tallahassee, it resulted in first-year Gators coach Billy Napier becoming the first in his program's history to lose to Tennessee, Georgia and FSU in the same season.

Speaks pretty highly of Florida through the years, doesn't it?

Contact David Paschall at