The Georgia-Auburn football game looked a lot bigger in the summer than it does now. Back then, a media survey picked Auburn to win the SEC championship and Georgia to win the Eastern Division.
Given expectations, Saturday’s installment of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” as the Georgia-Auburn series has long been billed, could be recast as the Disappointment Bowl.
About all that’s left is the emotion of a border battle that dates to 1892, when the teams played at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in the first football game in Auburn history and the second in UGA history.
“Right this minute, Auburn being Auburn and us being Georgia is enough, in my opinion,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “And that’s what we’re focusing on.
“We’re focusing on getting ready to play one whale of a football game versus a team that is going to have a tremendous fan base ready to get after us.”
The game at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be the 119th meeting between Georgia and Auburn. The schools have played each other in all but three years since 1898, missing two years during World War I and one year during World War II.
Through the decades, the game often has been accompanied by high stakes, not surprising given its traditional late-season place on the schedule.
For example, five of Georgia’s six SEC championships under legendary former coach Vince Dooley were clinched with victories at Auburn. And seven times in UGA football history, losses to Auburn cost the Bulldogs at least a share of the SEC title.
Asked what’s at stake this time, Georgia defensive end Josh Dawson said: “Just pride, just playing Georgia football, ending the season how we want it to end. … These last three games, we can control how we finish. As a senior, you want to (go) out a winner.”
While championships are long-gone dreams for both teams, Saturday’s game does offer this: The winner will take the lead in the all-time Georgia-Auburn series.
After all these years, the series is tied 55-55-8, and the all-time point differential is Georgia’s 1,920 to Auburn’s 1,821 — a difference of 99 points (or 0.84 per game). A win would give Georgia a lead in the series for the first time since 1986.
“Obviously, it’s dead even,” Georgia linebacker Jake Ganus said, “so we’re looking to gain an edge.”
It has been a quirky series, with Georgia holding a winning record at Auburn (15-11-2) and Auburn holding a winning record in Athens (18-13). Before moving to the campuses, the series was mostly played at neutral sites for decades.
The series has produced more than its share of unforgettable finishes. Just to name a few at Jordan-Hare: Georgia’s upset win in 1986 that was followed by the Auburn grounds crew turning fire hoses on UGA fans who stormed the field … Georgia’s 56-49 win in four overtimes in 1996 … Auburn’s 43-38 victory in 2013 when a “Hail Mary” fourth-and-18 pass was tipped by two Georgia defensive backs into the hands of Tigers receiver Ricardo Louis.
But this season, relative to expectations, these have been the SEC’s two most disappointing teams.
Auburn (5-4, 2-4 SEC) is in last place in the Western Division despite last week’s win at Texas A&M. The Tigers benched starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson three games into the season in favor of redshirt freshman Sean White, whose nagging knee injury opened the door for Johnson to return to the lineup last week. The Auburn defense ranks last in the SEC, allowing 430.6 yards per game.
Georgia (6-3, 4-3) is in second place in the weaker Eastern Division, which is 1-10 versus the West this season. The Bulldogs’ season-long struggles at quarterback were compounded by the loss of star tailback Nick Chubb to a year-ending knee injury. Before last week’s rout of Kentucky, the Bulldogs had gone two consecutive games without a touchdown.
“People aren’t worried about what’s going on here, what’s going on there,” Ganus said in Athens early this week. “We’re just completely focused on … doing the best we can to have a good game on Saturday.”