National picture hangs over Georgia’s state task

semerson@macon.comNovember 23, 2012 

ATHENS -- It started the minute last week’s game ended. Then it ramped up after the events of that night, which thrust the Georgia football team suddenly back in the national title picture.

There was not a Bulldogs player or coach who was caught talking about Alabama, the SEC championship or the BCS championship. There was an edict from the top to only talk about Georgia Tech and ignore the bigger possibilities.

And there was a good reason for that.

“You could lose this game and blow it all,” junior linebacker Alec Ogletree said.

That fact is the most credible one for Georgia head coach Mark Richt’s laser-focus Saturday, which is to treat Georgia Tech like an arch-rival to top all rivalry games. The recent results would indicate otherwise: Georgia has won 10 of the past 11 matchups and is about a two-touchdown favorite on Saturday, according to the oddsmakers.

The game also doesn’t affect Georgia’s ability to win an SEC championship or play in a BCS bowl. Beat Alabama, the presumed opponent in next week’s title game, and the Bulldogs will win the SEC and play in a BCS bowl anyway.

But everyone is also aware of the greater goal. Beating Georgia Tech keeps alive hopes of playing for a national title.

That’s the difference between this year and last year, when the Bulldogs entered the Georgia Tech matchup also knowing they were playing the next week in the SEC championship. The Bulldogs were able to win that game against the Yellow Jackets rather easily. But Richt is clearly worried about his team losing focus. Richt even joked that he had to hang up on his mother this week because she was talking about the BCS.

Or at least it seemed like he was joking. Either way, the Bulldogs are in the mode of at least pretending to be oblivious.

“The staff’s not asking me,” Richt said. “I get here at eight and leave about midnight, so there’s not many people I talk to outside the building. So we really haven’t talked about it.”

“Everybody’s aware of it, but at the same time we can’t focus on that,” Ogletree said. “We’ve gotta play one game at a time. We’ve got a tough challenge this week, and that’s our main focus right now.”

Georgia is a team with many rivals -- many would say Florida is the main one, but depending on geography it could also be South Carolina, Auburn or Tennessee. And then there’s Georgia Tech, which doesn’t enjoy recent success against the Bulldogs and whose fan base is dwarfed by Georgia’s.

But this week the team has turned this into the greatest rivalry in sports, with strength coach Joe Tereshinski leading the charge. Tereshinski, the veteran of the Bulldogs program, lectured the team early in the week on why hatred for Georgia Tech is justified.

“Coach T is passionate about this game, so he wants to put his two cents in, which is great,” Richt said. “I want them to hear it.”

“No matter what the records are or what’s happening, nothing changes the fact that if we lose to them it’s a living hell for the next 365 days,” junior tight end Arthur Lynch said.

That would be the case for a different, and a bigger, reason this time. And everyone knows why.

“Not to be negative. But it could be horrible,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. ”People would pile on with everything negative they could think about. But we can’t focus on that. What I keep telling myself is we have an opponent that’s coming in here that probably hates us as much as any other opponent.”

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