ATHENS -- Following last week’s win over Auburn -- thus the conclusion of Georgia’s SEC schedule -- Damian Swann looked up with a smile on his face and uttered two simple words.
“Go Aggies,” he said.
With Georgia’s defeat of Auburn, only one more piece needs to fall in place for the Bulldogs to claim the SEC East crown -- a Missouri loss. A Texas A&M win over Missouri would’ve solidified Georgia’s spot in the SEC championship game for the third time in four years.
Swann didn’t get his wish. The Aggies squandered a late-game opportunity to extend the game into overtime, failing to convert on a fourth-and-1 from the Missouri 2-yard line.
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This week, Swann sat with the same smile and offered a similar phrase, but one different enough to cause some discomfort.
“Go Vols,” he said.
So goes the waiting game that Georgia has put itself in.
On Saturday, Georgia will take the field against Charleston Southern (8-3). As predicted, head coach Mark Richt won’t discount the Buccaneers, nor should he after a player admittance of complacency before the team’s loss to Florida. Charleston Southern is no slouch, either.
The Buccaneers have shown already this year they aren’t afraid of FBS, or even SEC, competition, narrowly losing to Vanderbilt in October.
“They took Vanderbilt 21-20, so they’re not scared of any SEC teams,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said.
But no matter how hard Richt tries to convince himself or others how competitive and physical the game will be, even Bulldogs minds will struggle not to veer from the FCS matchup to the Tennessee-Missouri contest that could decide Georgia’s SEC fate.
Even Richt twinkled at the idea of watching the SEC East matchup.
“I look forward to putting my PJs on, sitting in my lounger and watching college football,” Richt said.
He wants Tennessee to win, which already feels weird enough. So he won’t take his Volunteers fandom too far.
“I do not have orange PJs,” Richt said. “The last time I wore orange was in my (Miami) days in ’82. I’ve always been on a team that didn’t like another team in orange.”
Hence the internal debate Georgia players, coaches and fans find themselves in as they prepare for one of their most uncomfortable Saturdays endured in some time. Red and black will be circled around TVs, cheering on orange uniforms, guiltily humming along to “Rocky Top.”
But the Bulldogs know that’s exactly what they’ll have to do if they hope to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the conference championship.
“Yeah, without a doubt, we’ll be watching the TV,” offensive lineman John Theus said.
“I’m going to be their biggest fan on Saturday,” linebacker Leonard Floyd said.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sing ‘Rocky Top.’ I hate that song,” wide receiver Michael Bennett said. “But I’ll definitely be a big fan.”
This isn’t an unfamiliar position for the Bulldogs. In 2012, after falling to South Carolina, Georgia needed the Gamecocks to suffer two more conference losses. They did so the subsequent two weeks against LSU and Florida. Last season, after losing to Missouri, Georgia asked for a Tigers loss, which came two weeks later against South Carolina, although a number of Bulldogs losses down the stretch ended Georgia’s chances of getting to the conference title game.
The waiting game might not be a fun one to play, but it will be for the Bulldogs worth it if it means playing Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
“We finished the way we needed to finish, and that’s all we could ask. Now we have to sit back and see what happens,” offensive lineman Kolton Houston said. “You’d like to be able to have it completely in your hands, but that’s not how it is right now. There’s no point in beating ourselves up or anything.”