ATHENS -- Georgia will know the hallways. It may have the same locker room. In its second trip to the Georgia Dome this season, the Bulldogs football team should not be in awe of its surroundings.
That may be one of the few advantages the Bullodgs have in the SEC championship game against top-ranked LSU. If it’s even an advantage.
“Shoot, they went to the Jerry Dome. So they’ve had a bunch of big-game experiences, too,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said of LSU, which opened the season by beating Oregon at the glitzy home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Such is the task ahead for Richt’s team, which opens as an double-digit underdog to unbeaten LSU. The Tigers also have been steeled by highly hyped matchups against Alabama, Arkansas and West Virginia this season.
Arguably, LSU is setting up to have the most impressive résumé of any team in the BCS era.
“Our guys transfer the glare of the lights to making plays in the game,” Tigers head coach Les Miles said. “We’re kind of comfortable in domes. And we’re looking forward to seeing if we can do the exact same thing on Saturday.”
LSU (12-0) enters the game boasting three wins over other teams that are ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings. It ranks first in the nation in defense.
Georgia (10-2) only owns two wins over two FBS teams that have a winning record: Georgia Tech (8-4) and Auburn (7-5). And it lost, convincingly, in its season opener to Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
So Richt was understandably a bit reticent to compare this year’s team to some of his best recent ones.
He had mentioned to the team earlier in the year that it had the potential to be similar to his team in 2005, which beat LSU in the SEC championship game, and the 2007 team, which finished ranked No. 2 in the country.
“I don’t know if we’ve reached that or not. I really don’t,” Richt said. “I’m not as certain. I think this time of the season, those other years that you mentioned, 2005, I think I knew more about them than I do (now). I still don’t know if on a consistent basis we’ve put it all together.”
The hope for Georgia, which ranks fifth in the nation in total defense, is that it has at least improved greatly since the last time it visited the Georgia Dome. Or for that matter the team that lost the following week at home to South Carolina.
“We’re a team that certainly improved as the season went on,” Richt said. “We’ve done a lot of good things since game two. And until you play a team you really don’t know how you match up with them.”
Georgia’s leading rusher, freshman Isaiah Crowell, appears on track to play Saturday after missing the game against Georgia Tech with an ankle injury.
“I think he will practice Monday. So unless there’s a setback I would think he would play in the game,” Richt said.
But Richard Samuel’s status is less certain. The junior tailback, who would figure to share carries with Crowell if healthy, has been out since ankle surgery Nov. 1. Richt said “we’re hoping” Samuel could play, but Richt said Samuel wouldn’t practice Monday.
Miles was asked about preparing for Georgia’s tailback given the injuries.
“We’re gonna prepare for their best,” Miles said. “I suspect that every able-bodied man will be ready and able to take every snap. I would think that they would be as healthy as they need to be to compete.”
Starting defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who missed most of the game against Georgia Tech with an ankle injury, is also uncertain to play.
Georgia knows its bowl destination if it upsets LSU. The Bulldogs would get the SEC’s automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 in New Orleans.
But if Georgia loses, it could end up in any of three different bowls:
The Capital One (Jan. 2 in Tampa) gets first pick of SEC teams that don’t make the BCS. Through its Twitter feed Sunday night, it indicated it was favoring Arkansas, although Georgia “could force more talk next week.”
Then comes the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 6 in Dallas), which can pick either Georgia or South Carolina, since both are 10-2.
The furthest Georgia could slip would be the Outback Bowl (Jan. 2 in Tampa). The SEC has a rule that would prevent a bowl from bypassing a team with Georgia or South Carolina’s record for an Auburn (7-5) or Florida (6-6).