ATHENS, Ga. — The college football series between Auburn and Georgia will forever be known as the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry."
After this Saturday's game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, however, it will no longer have the late-season impacts on the Eastern and Western division races within the Southeastern Conference. Next year, Auburn and Georgia will collide in the regular season outside of November for the first time since 1936, with the two scheduled to meet Oct. 10.
"It may seem more weird next year," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said this week in a news conference when asked about the impending change. "It seems real natural right now to be playing them this late. It's kind of the routine.
"When you get to this point of November, it's what you've got to get ready for."
The league announced the scheduling change earlier this year, which followed a request by Auburn to alleviate the annual closing stretch of Georgia and Alabama that has existed for more than 50 years. The lone exception occurred in 2001, when the Tigers ended with Georgia, Alabama and LSU due to the rescheduling of the LSU contest after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Georgia next season will instead face Tennessee in its 10th game, while the Tigers hardly got the scheduling break they desired in 2020, having to close with LSU and Alabama on consecutive weekends.
The moving of the Auburn-Georgia series, which the Bulldogs lead 59-56-8 with 11 wins in the last 14 meetings, comes at a time when the two programs are impacting the SEC and the national landscapes. Auburn and Georgia have combined to play for three national championships this decade, with the Tigers winning the 2010 BCS crown over Oregon and losing the 2013 BCS title to Florida State in the final seconds.
Georgia reached the championship game of the four-team playoff following the 2017 season but fell to Alabama 26-23 in overtime.
The two programs have combined to make seven SEC title-game appearances this decade, with the Bulldogs defeating the Tigers 28-7 in the 2017 league championship game. This week's contest marks the fourth straight season in which at least one of the teams is still in the hunt for first in its division, with No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 5-1) having the chance to clinch a third consecutive SEC East title with a triumph.
No. 13 Auburn (7-2, 4-2) would need to defeat Georgia and Alabama and would need LSU to lose its last three games, including to lowly Arkansas, to win the West.
"I hadn't really thought about it that way," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said of Saturday's historical aspect from a calendar standpoint. "If it's not them, though, it will be somebody else. It's a dog-eat-dog world in our conference. It's every week.
"There are good teams to play, and you can't take anybody lightly. So whether it's early in the year or late in the year, I don't think it changes much."
By having the contest against the Volunteers in November next season, Georgia will have a closing conference run of Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, which certainly will provide a make-or-break fate in the East landscape. Of course, the Bulldogs would like to head into their Halloween date against the Gators in Jacksonville having defeated Auburn three weeks earlier.
Already sounds strange, doesn't it?
"I didn't know that," Bulldogs senior safety J.R. Reed said about the scheduling shift. "Hopefully our guys can take care of them next year."
Georgia's highest-rated offensive signee earlier this year was receiver George Pickens, who had been committed to Auburn for months before pulling a signing day surprise. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from the Birmingham suburb of Hoover had two touchdown catches in last Saturday's 27-0 win over Missouri, but how will he be received this weekend in Jordan-Hare, and how emotional will it be for him?
"We'll most definitely have George calmed down and under reins during this game," Reed said.
Pickens has played in all nine games as a freshman, compiling 29 receptions for 389 yards and four scores.
Odds and ends
Smart said after Tuesday's practice that receiver Lawrence Cager (shoulder) and center Trey Hill (ankle) went through their normal workloads. ... Former Georgia and Green Bay Packers quarterback Zeke Bratkowski died Monday at the age of 88 at his home in Florida.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.