Saturday’s showdown of Top 10 SEC foes LSU and Georgia seems tailor-made for national hype. Yet despite College Gameday’s presence in Athens, the SEC on CBS marquee billing and lofty SEC (and thereby BCS) implications, this matchup isn’t quite registering on the national consciousness as it should.
This is one of the most important dates on the 2013 SEC calendar. Why, on the eve of game day, is it yet to be treated as such?
The surprisingly lukewarm reception for this SEC tilt of gargantuan magnitude is less indicative of the 2013 Tigers and Bulldogs, and more reflective of the general Murphy’s Law looming over each program.
A win for Georgia puts the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat of the SEC East. A win for LSU extends the Tigers’ undefeated start and establishes them as legitimate national championship contenders. Nevertheless, it’s still only September and foreboding can linger over either program for another two months.
LSU is back to title contending form after a somewhat disappointing 2012. The Tigers’ undefeated run through the 2011 regular season came a year ahead of schedule, but the 22-0 loss in the BCS championship game set an ominous tone for the promising 2012 Bayou Bengals.
Few teams ran a gauntlet quite like LSU in 2012. The Tigers faced six opponents ranked in the Top 25 at the time of their meeting, including a run of five straight from Oct. 6 through Nov. 10.
Since 9-6, big-game victories have come at a something of premium for LSU. The luster of a season-opening win over TCU came off quickly, after TCU lost to Texas Tech just 12 days later. Meanwhile, the Tigers went 2-3 against opponents that finished in the Top 25 last year.
The losses were hardly shameful; LSU was beat in The Swamp, at home against Alabama and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Clemson by a combined 13 points. Wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M came similarly, by all of seven points.
Under head coach Les Miles, LSU has an uncanny knack for late game theatrics. Because the Tigers are so often embroiled in last-minute finishes, the law of averages is guaranteed to work against LSU’s favor — and that’s before the variable of Miles’ oft maligned late-game play-calling is factored.
Georgia’s SEC championship loss to Alabama in December was the kind of near-miss associated with recent LSU finishes. Mark Richt came about five yards shy of coaching in a national championship game for the first time in his career.
Alas, the one milestone he can’t quite reach continued to elude him. With a Week 1 loss to the same Clemson team that beat LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Bulldogs are playing catch up.
Despite Richt sporting one of the best win percentages among active coaches and a resume of consistent success, a stigma of being unable to close out the big one follows him.
Saturday is one such big game.
One team steps out from Between The Hedges Saturday closer to shaking some of the misfortune that has followed it. For the loser, the decision can be chalked up to status quo.