UGA Competitive With 'Top Dogs' In College Football Heading Into SEC Championship
The No. 4-ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs play No. 2 Louisiana State University Saturday in the SEC Championship.
If the Bulldogs win, they have a shot at playing in the National Championship game next year.
ESPN reporter and host of SEC Nation on the SEC network, Laura Rutledge joined GPB's Rickey Bevington to break down the big game.
This conversation has been edited from clarity and conciseness.
Rickey Bevington: This is the third year in a row UGA has made an appearance in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs, of course, won in 2017 against Auburn and lost last year to Alabama. What are their chances this year against the LSU Tigers?
Laura Rutledge: You never want to count Georgia out of anything. I think in the Kirby Smart era, Georgia has been that team that's been really competitive with the top dogs, no pun intended, in college football.
When you look back even to last year's SEC Championship that you mentioned, they really played the better game. If Jalen Hurts hadn't come in for Alabama in the second half of that game, Georgia would have won and been in great position for the College Football Playoffs.
I think Georgia is in great position just because they play a style of football that you don't see that often anymore in college. It's not this, you know, fast paced speed-and-space type scheme, which you'll see from LSU's offense. If they can possess the football and win that battle, I think they're in a good spot.
They are injured. They're going to need somebody to step up in the wide receiver position. But I think D'Andre Swift, who's a little dinged up himself and Jake Fromm look to have a big day. They really could be in a scenario where they're right there in the College Football Playoff once again.
Bevington: These two teams are meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Will Georgia have a home field advantage?
Rutledge: I don't think so, mainly because LSU fans travel like crazy, and LSU fans are a lot of fun. If you want to grab some jambalaya or some gumbo before the game, you know they'll be out there tailgating, and they're usually pretty inclined to share with you as long as you'll give them a, "Geaux Tigers!"
I think this one will be pretty evenly split, but, either way, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is incredibly loud as an atmosphere for these players. I would imagine that Georgia fans will make it feel like a home field advantage, even if there are a ton of LSU fans there, too.
Bevington: Let's talk about players. A new California law will allow college players to make money from endorsements. A Georgia lawmaker has already said he plans to introduce similar legislation in January in the coming legislative session. Envision this with me, Laura, if this becomes a nationwide standard in, say, a decade, how will college football change?
Rutledge: It'll change, I think, for the better. This is something that's been a long time coming. We can't continue to see a world where these players put their careers, put their livelihoods on the line and never get reimbursed for it and never get rewarded for it. There are many out there that say, 'Well, wait a second. They're getting a scholarship. They're getting all of these extras that come with being a Division I athlete.' But they're still not able to benefit from their names and their likeness.
What I would like to point out, too, that I think is really important about all of this is this doesn't just benefit football players. This benefits all of athletics and especially female athletes. You look at sports like softball, for instance, or maybe even gymnastics where some of these athletes are kind of done after college. This is the time when their star is the brightest, when people would care about having them come and do an appearance somewhere and when they really could make some extra money. Especially for females who may not have another opportunity to really see their star that bright, they're able to capitalize on that when they are getting that much attention.
Bevington: I can't leave you, Laura, without talking about both teams' animal mascots. Of course, Uga the bulldog will be there. Will Mike the Tiger be making an appearance?
Rutledge: Mike, a lot of times, likes to stay in his habitat there in Baton Rouge. While we all try to do some investigation on whether or not he'll make the trip. I think it's a little bit unlikely. It's just incredible to see, you know, a live tiger as a mascot. They're such majestic animals. I think from Uga's standpoint, he's probably glad that he doesn't have to see Mike the Tiger.
Bevington: I think Uga is going to be just fine.
Rutledge: He lives a great life. He arrives in style all the time. He really does walk the red carpet that he deserves to walk.