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SEC title hopes back at Georgia
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ATHENS — A little over a month ago, Georgia coach Mark Richt stopped talking about the Southeastern Conference race. He figured there wasn’t any point after the Bulldogs were blown out by Tennessee.

These days, the Bulldogs can’t help but think about their title hopes.

No. 8 Georgia (8-4, 5-2 SEC) has won four straight, including huge victories over Florida and Auburn, and goes into its final conference game leading the SEC East.

"Oh yeah, that’s on all our minds," freshman linebacker Rennie Curran said. "I know for a fact that all the guys want that ring. We all have in the back of our minds the possibility of going to the SEC championship game. That’s why we’re working extra hard."

Georgia also needs some outside help.

While Tennessee (7-3, 4-2) is a half-game behind the Bulldogs, they’ll win the East with victories in their final two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

That’s because the Vols hold the tiebreaker edge over Georgia with their 35-14 victory on Oct. 6, the very game that seemed to deliver a knockout blow to the Bulldogs’ hopes.

"Right now, we’re just worried about winning out," safety CJ Byrd said. "We can’t control what Tennessee does, how they play this game or that game. We’ve just got to try to win the rest of our games and hopefully it will all play out."

The Bulldogs hardly have a gimme in their SEC finale Saturday. They host No. 22 Kentucky (7-3, 3-3), which defeated Georgia a year ago, is the only team to knock off top-ranked LSU this season and hasn’t given up on forcing its way into the East mix.

Facing such a dangerous team, the Bulldogs know they can’t get distracted watching the scoreboard for updates from the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game.

"We’ve got to take care of our business," safety Kelin Johnson said. "We all know the SEC is unpredictable right now. There’s a lot of ball left. A lot of teams are still in it. We’ve just got to keep working hard. All we can do is take care of ourselves."

Indeed, four teams — Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida (7-3, 5-3) — are within one loss of each other in the SEC East. Only South Carolina and Vanderbilt have been eliminated.

By contrast, the Western Division race is over. LSU will be in Atlanta on Dec. 1 to face whoever emerges from the down-to-the-wire race in the East.

"We’ve got to beat Kentucky for anything to matter," Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "That is what’s on our minds. I don’t know even know when Tennessee plays. Who are they playing this week? I don’t even know."

Told it was Vanderbilt, Stafford didn’t miss a beat.

"We’ve just got to concentrate on us more than anything else," he said.

Still, the Bulldogs have reason to be proud of themselves for turning things around. They failed to score a touchdown in a home loss to South Carolina early in the season, and put up very little fight when Tennessee raced out to a big first-half lead in Knoxville.

After that, Richt challenged his players to show more emotion. They took him up on it against Florida, the entire team storming the end zone after the first touchdown in a 42-30 victory.

Last Saturday, the Bulldogs wore black jerseys for the first time in the modern era against Auburn, giving them an emotional lift that paid off with a 45-20 triumph.

"After Tennessee, a lot of guys thought we were down and out of the picture," Stafford said. "But we fought back and had some big wins."

If Georgia can win one more — and Tennessee loses one along the way — the Bulldogs will play for an SEC championship they wouldn’t even talk about a little over a month ago.

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