Georgia Tech at Georgia
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
TV: SEC Network
ATHENS — There's no need for any extra motivation when Georgia faces Georgia Tech.
These teams just don't like each other.
"It's a game you think about all year long," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday.
Yet, in a change from previous meetings, there's a lot more on the line than merely state bragging rights.
Both teams are having seasons to remember, transforming what is often nothing more than a provincial showdown into a game taking its place alongside more prominent national rivalries such as Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State.
In fact, Saturday's game between the hedges might be the most substantial for both teams in nearly a half-century.
No. 8 Georgia (9-2) hopes to land a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game and still has an outside shot at sneaking into college football's inaugural four-team playoff.
No. 16 Georgia Tech (9-2) has already locked up a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game and is looking to strengthen its credentials for a major bowl, most likely the Orange.
The combined record of 18-4 is the best for the rivalry known as "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate" since a classic 1966 meeting, when Vince Dooley's Bulldogs (8-1) took a 23-14 victory to ruin a perfect season for Georgia Tech (9-0) in Bobby Dodd's final season as Yellow Jackets coach.
"Both teams are playing really well," Richt said. "You can show up 9-2 and having lost your last two games, or you can show up with a pretty good string of victories. I think both teams are in the process of that."
Indeed, Georgia comes in having won three in a row, most notably a 34-7 blowout of then-No. 9 Auburn. The Yellow Jackets are on a four-game winning streak, which includes a dominant 28-6 victory over then-No. 19 Clemson that helped lock up the ACC Coastal Division title.
"It's a huge game," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Clearly, there are a lot of the fan bases that don't like each other. For us, it kind of adds a little bit, too, being ACC vs. SEC. We sit right here in the middle of the SEC. That's all we hear all the time."
The Bulldogs have controlled the series since the mid-1960s, winning 38 of the last 50 meetings. They've been especially dominant under Richt, taking 12 of 13.
Richt has no idea why he's had more success against the Yellow Jackets than any of Georgia's other rivals.
"We've had a bunch of very, very close games that we've been able to win," Richt said. "We do try to take every game serious around here. But this one, it's the end of the year. It's a rival game, It does get our blood pumping."
Last year's game was especially galling for Georgia Tech.
Playing at home, the Yellow Jackets raced to a 20-0 lead but couldn't hold on, even with the Bulldogs having to go with backup quarterback Hutson Mason in place of injured starter Aaron Murray. Georgia rallied to win 41-34 in double overtime.
"Every game you lose, it bothers you. Clearly that was an important game. Yeah, it lingers," Johnson said. "Maybe it stings more because it's them, but it would have bothered me regardless of who it was."
Georgia will be paying attention to another game Friday.
No. 17 Missouri can clinch the SEC East with a victory over Arkansas, which would deny the Bulldogs a spot in the Dec. 6 conference championship in Atlanta.
But, if the surging Razorbacks can pull off another victory over a ranked team (coming off impressive wins over LSU and Mississippi by a combined score of 47-0), then Georgia would take the division title no matter the outcome of its game against the Yellow Jackets.
Mason, a fifth-year senior who has made this team his own with Murray now in the NFL, figures the Bulldogs still have a shot at making the national playoff if Arkansas knocks off Mizzou.
Despite losses to South Carolina and Florida, the Bulldogs would surely get some consideration from the selection committee if they closed the season with victories over Georgia Tech and, in all likelihood, No. 2 Alabama in the SEC title game.
Under that scenario, either Georgia or Mississippi State would likely get the nod as SEC's representative to play for the national championship.
"I think it gives us a strong argument to be in the final four," Mason said. "But the reality of it is, if we don't take care of business Saturday, it won't happen."