Ge­or­gia makes a rare trip to Ba­ton Rouge

The Oklahoman - - COLLEGE KICKOFF -

Col­lege foot­ball’s game of the day is in Ba­ton Rouge, Lou­i­si­ana, where 13th-ranked LSU hosts sec­ond-ranked Ge­or­gia.

It’s a typical SEC slob­ber­knocker. Ex­cept it’s more like a non-con­fer­ence game. These two pro­grams don’t know each other very well.

The SEC's pe­cu­liar sched­ul­ing phi­los­o­phy, com­pounded by the ex­pan­sion to 14 schools in 2012, lim­its some series from be­ing played of­ten. Ge­or­gia and LSU now are sched­uled to play only twice over any 12-year pe­riod.

Since 1990, Ge­or­gia has played in Ba­ton Rouge only three times. In the last 25 years, the schools have met just seven times in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Thrice they have col­lided in SEC Cham­pi­onship Games.

Ge­or­gia coach Kirby Smart is lucky. As a Bull­dog line­backer from 1995-98, he got to play in Tiger Sta­dium, a 28-27 Ge­or­gia vic­tory in 1998.

“They have an in­cred­i­ble en­vi­ron­ment,” Smart said. “Their fan­base is re­ally sec­ond to none in their at­mos­phere they cre­ate from the time you pull in on the buses.

“It’s an awe­some op­por­tu­nity for our team to play on a na­tional stage. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for a lot of our guys to play in a venue that that a lot of Ge­or­gia play­ers never got a chance to play in and some in the fu­ture won’t get an op­por­tu­nity to play in.”

But it’s not like Ge­or­gia hasn’t been on the SEC road al­ready. The Bull­dogs al­ready have won at South Carolina (41-17) and Mis­souri (43-29).

This starts a rough three­game stretch for Ge­or­gia in which it doesn’t play Be­tween the Hedges in Athens — at LSU, Florida on a neu­tral field in Jack­sonville, at Ken­tucky.

A loss al­most surely would make Ge­or­gia win out — in­clud­ing an SEC ti­tle game vic­tory over prob­a­bly Alabama — to reach the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. And it won’t be easy to win in Tiger Sta­dium. Smart knows that. Come Satur­day, his play­ers will know it, too.

Up­set spe­cial

In Au­gust, Wis­con­sin was a trendy pick for the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. An­nu­ally potent. In a good con­fer­ence but a weak divi­sion. Seemed like all the nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ents.

Then the Badgers stun­ningly lost at home to Brigham Young, and their stock has tum­bled.

Now Wis­con­sin is a 10-point un­der­dog at Michi­gan, for rea­sons that are some­what un­clear.

The Wolver­ines opened with a 24-17 loss at Notre Dame. They routed Ne­braska, but since then strug­gled to sur­vive North­west­ern 20-17 and got past Mary­land 42-21.

Since los­ing 24-21 to BYU, Wis­con­sin won 28-17 at Iowa and beat Ne­braska 41-24.

Michi­gan has enig­matic coach Jim Har­baugh, while Wis­con­sin has Paul Chryst, who you couldn’t pick out of a State Farm in­sur­ance con­ven­tion.

But Chryst is a qual­ity coach who runs a qual­ity pro­gram. Wis­con­sin is con­sis­tent. The wrong team might be fa­vored. Let’s go with the Badgers in the up­set.

Coach on the hot seat

South­ern Cal coach Clay Hel­ton stays in hot wa­ter. This week, he’s ranked eighth by coacheshot­seat. com, which mea­sures coaches most likely to be fired.

And I don’t get it. Hel­ton took over as in­terim coach at USC early in the 2015 sea­son, and the Tro­jans went 5-4 un­der him.

But in 2016, the Tro­jans went 10-3 and made the Rose Bowl, with Pac-12 cham­pion Wash­ing­ton headed to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. In 2017, USC went 11-3 and won its first Pac-12 ti­tle since 2008.

Now the Tro­jans are 3-2, with losses to Stan­ford and Texas. USC hosts Colorado on Satur­day in a game that will go a long way in de­ter­min­ing the South Divi­sion cham­pi­onship.

A loss could give CU a two-game lead in the divi­sion and would put Hel­ton back in the fry­ing pan, even though he’s done a good job with the Tro­jans.

Rank­ing the non-Big 12 games

1. Ge­or­gia at LSU, 2:30 p.m., CBS: In the 26-year his­tory of the SEC Cham­pi­onship Game, only Alabama-Florida (eight times) is a more com­mon matchup than LSU-Ge­or­gia (three).

2. Wash­ing­ton at Ore­gon, 2:30 p.m., ABC: The Ducks ac­tu­ally are closer to be­ing un­beaten than are the Huskies. Ore­gon gave away the Stan­ford game.

3. Wis­con­sin at Michi­gan, 6:30 p.m., ABC: Fairly tough cross­over sched­ule for the Badgers, who also play Penn State.

4. Colorado at South­ern Cal, 9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1:

The Pac-12 South is not the weak­est divi­sion among the eight in the Power 5 con­fer­ences. The ACC Coastal has that dis­tinc­tion.

5. Michi­gan State at Penn State, 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Net­work: The Spar­tans were ranked 11th na­tion­ally in pre­sea­son. Now they’ve lost to Ari­zona State and North­west­ern.

6. Cen­tral Florida at Mem­phis, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2: Josh He­u­pel’s Golden Knights have few hur­dles to an­other un­beaten reg­u­lar sea­son. This is one.

7. Mis­souri at Alabama, 6 p.m., ESPN: This is Miz­zou’s first trip to Tuscaloosa since 1975 — and yes, I know that they’ve shared a con­fer­ence for the last seven years.

8. Hawaii at Brigham Young, 9:15 p.m., ESPN2: The Rain­bows join Alabama, Ohio State, Ge­or­gia and Notre Dame in try­ing Satur­day to reach seven wins.

9. Pitts­burgh at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m., NBC: Six of the last seven meet­ings in the series, all in the last 10 years, have been de­cided by a touch­down or less.

10. Texas A&M at South Carolina, 2:30 p.m., SEC Net­work:

Big game for the Ag­gies to es­tab­lish them­selves as above the SEC’s mid­dle.

[AP PHOTO]

Kirby Smart yells from the side­line dur­ing Ge­or­gia’s game against Van­der­bilt last week.

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