To the words and phrases that shall not be spoken around the Georgia football program – you know, ones like “quarterback controversy,” “creampuff schedule,” and “lighten up, it’s only a game” – you may now add this latest.
“Yeah, that’s nice, but can you beat Alabama.”
There is no official moratorium on mentioning the great oppressors of college football, said Bulldogs defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter Monday. But there seems to be at least an implied gag order.
Citing a more immediate engagement with another team from that state to Georgia’s left, the Bulldogs went about their business Monday like they’d get their mouths washed out with Zima for daring to make any significant reference to Alabama or Crimson or Tide.
“Even in your imaginings, do you daydream about playing Alabama?” I asked Bulldogs safety J.R. Reed.
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“You daydream about Alabama?” Reed said, turning back the question.
“No, but I don’t have to play them.”
“I don’t daydream about Alabama at all,” Reed said.
It’s healthier if Reed really doesn’t (if you believe it). Because, honestly, isn’t that more nightmare than daydream?
With three games left in the regular season both sides of the SEC Championship Game already have been settled. This is what happens when the conference is a two-legged chair, completely unbalanced.
Reed let us in on just how underwhelming it was for Georgia to win the SEC East when it seems like everyone else in the division has signed a non-compete clause. Asked about the aftermath to beating Kentucky last Saturday, he said, “There was a little celebration but we know winning the East doesn’t really mean that much. It’s really nice to win the East two times in a row but now it’s on to Auburn and on to whoever is next after that.”
One more clue that the bar at Georgia is set so much higher now.
Of course, Georgia has to take care of the upcoming obligations against Auburn, UMass and Georgia Tech. But even before it clinched the East, we all knew that its place in the national hierarchy was going to be determined against Nick Saban’s dynasty.
Every Georgia game this season came with two standards.
Were the Bulldogs good enough that day to beat (fill in the opponent of the moment)?
And, did they look good enough to give Alabama a game?
To date, the answers have been:
- With one exception, yes.
- Oh, gawd, no.
As the question becomes more pressing, there is the better part of a month to work on that second response. Although, that is scarcely enough time to change the impression that playing the Tide in the Dec. 1 conference championship is more a sentence than an honor.
The Bulldogs have some experience with wrapping up its half of the SEC this early. They clinched the East at about the same time a year ago. Then went to Auburn as the No. 1 team in the land and got rolled.
Neither Georgia nor Auburn are as good as they were last year. Good news, Bulldogs. Of the two teams, Auburn is more not-as-good.
The Bulldogs can spout the line about playing only the game immediately in front of them. They can claim that Alabama is not even a distant speck on the horizon of their thoughts. But now that their collision with the Tide is set on the calendar, how can they resist glancing west and measuring themselves against the best?
Ledbetter suggested one way: “Other teams may (wonder how they’d match up with Alabama). But the thing about Georgia, it’s just Georgia. It’s always been about Georgia. We only focus on us. We are the top contender in our eyes. We just worry about what we do. If we just focus on us, we’ll have our own success and we won’t have to worry about anyone else’s.”
As impossible as it may be, looking inward is good strategy. Because Alabama is the total eclipse of college football, and if you look directly at it, you just might go blind.