No 'Amen Corner' for SEC powers

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
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ATHENS, Ga. -- There is no "Amen Corner" on an SEC football schedule anymore -- certainly not among the teams competing for the conference championship or BCS bowl bids.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIThe Bulldogs finish the regular season with two nonconference games before preparing for the SEC title game.
Former Auburn coach Pat Dye used to describe the Tigers' annual season-ending games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama as "Amen Corner" because -- like the famed golf holes at Augusta National that have determined many a Masters champion -- championships were often won and lost there.

Nobody closes with such a demanding schedule anymore, however. With many of the conference's heavyweights preparing to face their biggest rivals next weekend, most opted to squeeze in an FCS opponent this Saturday -- the equivalent of inserting a 300-yard par-4 in between Holes 11 and 12 at Augusta.

No. 5 Georgia (9-1) is certainly no different, with Georgia Southern (8-2) visiting Sanford Stadium on Saturday, although Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is not expecting a cakewalk against an Eagles team ranked sixth in the FCS.

"We normally play them about every four years. That's been the routine, and every time they show up, I kind of wish we didn't set it up," Richt joked. "They're just a very good football team, one that causes all kind of problems for us, especially defensively, to try to defend their running game."

In each of the last three meetings between Georgia and its lower-division counterpart from Statesboro, the teams played in the first game of the season. The Bulldogs will take on the Eagles and their unusual flexbone rushing attack on Saturday with a highly similar Georgia Tech offense awaiting the following weekend -- as will be the case when Georgia Southern is next scheduled to visit Athens in November 2016.

Not that the Bulldogs exactly look forward to the challenge.

"I hate games like this, personally," outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "I'm sure everybody on defense does, too. This week's going to be very intense, especially in practice, because everybody hates it, so they're kind of p-d off that they've got to go through it."

Although it is inconvenient for a UGA team that already has clinched the SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship game to have to prepare on consecutive weeks for option offenses when a more traditional offense -- most likely No. 4 Alabama and its pro-style attack -- will challenge them in the SEC title game, most Bulldogs said they prefer to face the similar offenses back-to-back rather than Georgia Southern early in the season and Georgia Tech late.

"Facing those teams back-to-back for two weeks straight where we don't have to worry about traditional offenses, playing Southern right before Tech helps us prepare for Tech, so I think it's a good thing that it's set up like that," cornerback Sanders Commings said.

The Bulldogs are far from the only SEC program following this relatively new scheduling philosophy. Of the 11 games involving SEC teams on Saturday, seven feature FCS opponents -- with many of the SEC teams that are playing lower-tier teams still in the running for a BCS bid.

Along with Georgia, which is paying Georgia Southern $475,000 to take a probable loss, Alabama (9-1) is paying Western Carolina (1-9) the same amount to visit Tuscaloosa this weekend.

No. 6 Florida (9-1) was slightly more generous, paying Jacksonville State (6-4) $500,000 to visit Gainesville this weekend. Meanwhile, No. 8 Texas A&M (8-2, facing 8-2 Sam Houston State) and No. 9 South Carolina (8-2, facing 8-2 Wofford) are also dropping down a level to earn what should be easy victories.

Among the six SEC teams ranked in the BCS top 10, only No. 7 LSU (8-2) will play an actual conference opponent this weekend. The Tigers will host Ole Miss (5-5).

The good news there for Georgia is that it won't have to worry about taking a damaging strength-of-schedule hit when the other teams around it in the BCS standings all come from the SEC and are almost all playing similar opponents.

The bad news is that the games against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are problematic in that their offenses are difficult to defend, making it harder to win the games, much less the style points that could come in handy if the undefeated teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs fall.

"The way the BCS scoring or whatever, how all that works, we can't even have any close games, really," Commings said. "We've just got to whup everybody that we're supposed to whup, and when we get to the SEC championship, we've got to take care of Alabama, too, and maybe have some style points behind it."

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