Historically traditional SEC programs clash Saturday afternoon when No. 2 Georgia (6-0, 4-0 SEC) travels to Baton Rouge to face No. 12 Louisiana State (5-1, 2-1 SEC). Toe will meet leather at 3:30 pm ET, hurling the pigskin through the thick bayou air as CBS broadcasts the contest to a national television audience.
UGA and LSU don’t square off regularly. Saturday’s affair marks the first time the teams have met since 2013 and Georgia’s first visit to Death Valley since 2008, where the Bulldogs look to snap LSU’s 20-game win streak in Tiger Stadium during the month of October, a streak that dates back to 2009.
And yet, this is the 10th time LSU and UGA have met in the last 20 years, more than this writer realized. UGA holds a 6-4 advantage during that span, although the Tigers are 2-1 against Georgia in the SEC Championship.
LSU and UGA are similar in SEC stature, at least in my view. They’re not on Alabama’s level but, then again, neither are several NFL teams.
After Bama, however, I put LSU and UGA right there with the Southeastern Conference’s second-tier programs which, by any measure, makes them elite, powerhouse programs on a national level.
These tradition-rich schools have several traits in common:
- Their state’s major, flagship university with little in-state recruiting competition;
- Located in fertile recruiting states with enough appeal to attract talent from nearby states and a few weird places like California or Illinois
- Have live mascots, one a Bengal tiger named Mike who resides in a 15,000 square foot habitat on campus, the other an adorably cute English bulldog named Uga (I think Georgia should build a habitat for Uga on campus like Mike)
- LSU fans get uncomfortably close to opposing teams’ fans and scream “Tiger Bait!” while Georgia fans get uncomfortably close and bark like dogs
- Warning to UGA fans in Baton Rouge this weekend: Think twice before getting in an LSU fan’s face and barking, or generally getting anywhere near LSU fans at all. Cajuns + a loss at Florida last week + tailgating all day = recipe for disaster.
The Louisiana State and Georgia programs share another similarity, one that’s still playing out today: they serially underachieved for prolonged, inexplicable periods.
After some success in the 1980s, the 1990s represented the dark ages of LSU football. Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo guided the program to just about nowhere, and LSU was all but an afterthought.
Then they hired some coach from Michigan State, of all places, named Nick Saban.
Saban guided LSU to a national championship in 2003, laid the foundation for Les Miles to win another national title in 2007, and play for yet another in 2011.
The sleeping giant of LSU football was awakened and, while the program’s stature arguably has declined following that 2011 national championship appearance, it retains its status as an elite brand in college football.
Georgia had a remarkably similar run to mediocrity in the 1990s following the tenure of legendary Bulldogs coach, Vince Dooley.
The Ray Goff and Jim Donnan eras in Athens were completely forgettable, and while Mark Richt enjoyed success by most measures, it was not success as measured by football-crazed Georgia fans starving for their first national title since 1980.
So UGA went out and hired Kirby Smart, Saban’s longtime defensive protégé, and in just Smart’s second year he had the Dawgs in the national championship game, in the process overhauling the entire culture of the program.
Both Georgia and LSU are traditional SEC powerhouse programs, awakening after inexcusably long stretches of mediocrity, now in the mix for SEC and national titles. UGA’s trajectory is steeper than LSU’s at the moment, but both remain firmly entrenched as storied, successful SEC programs.
The two don’t meet regularly, but when they do, fireworks tend to ensue.
The 2003 Matt Mauck to Skylar Green bomb in LSU’s win in Death Valley, 17-10.
UGA’s 45-16 beatdown of the defending national champions in Athens the very next year. (Can you imagine a Nick Saban-coached team losing like that today? Just doesn’t happen.)
The Honey Badger igniting LSU’s 42-10 victory over UGA in the 2011 SEC Championship.
Georgia’s 44-41 win in 2013 over an LSU team that featured Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry, both NFL superstars. I have heard one Bulldogs fan label this the best day ever in Athens.
Saturday shapes up as a dandy, with LSU officials expecting a record number of people on campus. Whatever the outcome, as the sun finds its home in the western sky and slips below the banks of the Mississippi River just outside Tiger Stadium, we can only hope for more fireworks from these traditional SEC powerhouse programs.