For the third time in nine years, LSU and Georgia meet in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. The Tigers dominated the Dogs back in 2003 and Georgia returned the favor in 2005. What will happen in 2011, with LSU looking to cap its dominant run to the BCS title game and Georgia notching 10 wins in a row?
We’ll find out at 4 p.m on Saturday in the Georgia Dome but, until then, let’s take an objective look at the matchup. I’ve chosen factors from on and off the field, since we all know that college football — and especially the SEC Championship — is about much more than what takes place on the gridiron. Here we go:
Coaches: LSU is led by Les Miles, known as the Mad Hatter for his risk-taking penchant and whacky speaking style. Georgia is led by Mark Richt, known affectionately to UGA fans as ... um, Mark Richt. Give him credit for resiliently bouncing back after this year’s 0-2 start. But the Hat has a national championship and Richt doesn’t. Advantage: LSU.
Mascots: LSU has Mike VI, a 700-pound Bengal tiger that lives in an elaborate habitat outside Tiger Stadium. Georgia has the lovable Uga, an English bulldog that proudly adorns the Georgia sidelines. Georgia is still searching for a permanent Uga, however, after Uga VIII’s unexpected death earlier this year. And, let’s face it, Mike the Tiger would eat Uga for a snack. Advantage: LSU.
Quarterbacks: LSU’s Jarrett Lee led the Tigers to an 8-0 record before being replaced by Jordan Jefferson, a dual-threat QB. Aaron Murray is the Dawgs’ signal caller on his way to elite SEC quarterback status. Advantage: Georgia.
College towns: LSU hails from Baton Rouge, one of the best places on earth for seven Saturdays in the fall. After that there are few redeeming qualities about B.R. other than a hole-in-the-wall place called Fleur de Lis Pizza. Athens, on the other hand, is a classic Southern college town with all of the culture, entertainment and charm you’d expect. Advantage: Georgia.
Running backs: LSU’s fourth-string running back ran for over 100 yards against Arkansas. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell has proven equal parts explosive runner and tin man. Advantage: Even.
Fans in the Georgia Dome: Georgia fans should fill 75 percent of the Dome. LSU fans are loud, crazy and obnoxious. Advantage: Georgia, slightly.
Defenses: LSU held the highest-powered offense in the SEC to one touchdown last week and has perhaps the most physically gifted collection of athletes ever assembled on one side of the ball. Georgia’s rush defense is second only to Alabama’s and leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for losses. Advantage: LSU, mostly because the Dogs haven’t played a strong offense since Boise State.
Play by play announcers: LSU has Jim Hawthorne, who’s had his fair share of memorable calls. Though he left the Dawgs’ booth a few years ago and passed away earlier this month, Georgia’s Larry Munson was one of the all-time greats. A true legend. Advantage: Georgia.
Special teams: LSU has given up six punt return yards all season and its punter, Brad Wing, became the first player in the nation to have a touchdown run nullified for taunting the opposing team. Yes, it’s true. LSU is so cocky that its punter talks trash. That kind of special teams swagger gives LSU the advantage over Georgia.
Overall body of work: LSU has beaten three top 10 BCS teams and blown out every team it faced except Alabama. Georgia has beaten two FBS teams with winning records (Georgia Tech and Auburn), but is peaking at the right time. Advantage: LSU.
There’s your definitive breakdown of the 2011 SEC Championship. Georgia matches up strongly against LSU in several positions and intangibles not mentioned here, and look for the Dawgs to keep it close and competitive for three quarters. But LSU’s depth, athleticism and mojo should propel them into the national title game with their undefeated record intact.