Mark Green Picks the SEC: Championship Game

Columnist Mark Green analyzes this week's Southeastern Conference football championship game matching the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers.

Before the 2005 season started, there were four teams that appeared to have the horses on the offensive and defensive lines to win the Southeastern Conference title. Of the four, LSU and Auburn looked to have the slightest of advantage on the OL over Georgia and Tennessee. Defensively, you could strike up a convincing debate for any of them.

Looking into other areas, particularly at quarterback, there was Shockley at Georgia, Russell at LSU, Cox at Auburn and Rick Clausen or Eric Ainge at Tennessee. None was a lock to shine, let alone star. All four secondaries had their question marks as well as their strengths. The linebackers were strong at Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia, and Cameron Vaughn had newcomers Ali Highsmith and big Kenneth Hollis to assist in the rebuilding of LSU's talented corps.

Senior quarterback D.J. Shockley is a big play man for the Bulldogs.

It was hard to figure, but the schedule appeared to favor LSU in the West and Georgia in the East. The murderous road schedules of Tennessee (LSU, Bama, Notre Dame, Florida) and, to a slightly lesser extent, Auburn (LSU, Georgia, Arkansas), appeared to be barriers for those teams, but not necessarily insurmountable ones.

Finally the consideration had to turn to the coaches: Tuberville, Richt, Fulmer, Miles. It has long been known but seldom admitted that the Great Pumpkin of Rocky Top had made a career on talent, youth, luck and a band of booster-happy SEC referees willing to toss their dirty laundry into the industry fray whenever needed.

Georgia's Mark Richt on the other hand, had built his reputation at the Bobby Bowden school of political correctness in Tallahassee. Unlike Fulmer, he was good-looking and had a knack for fearless, if wacky, play-calling. For some reason, the media instantly adored him, and Richt quickly ascended to the top of the SEC popularity heap over Fulmer and others by beating the Vols in Knoxville in the famous "hobnail boot" game in 2001.

Yet what has Richt really accomplished? He has lost to first-year coaches Urban Meyer and Ron Zook at Florida. He may well also lose to first-year coach Les Miles at LSU this Saturday. He lost last year to a recently-thrashed and truly mediocre Tennessee team in Athens, and was beaten twice by Nick Saban's LSU Tigers in 2002, including a blowout loss in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville has beaten Richt three out of five times, including two of three in Athens.

Why the glory and adoration for St. Mark? Some say to chalk it up to the goggle-eyed and internet-addicted sportswriters in the age of ESPN. It's the new reality TV series, Gameday, in which pretty boy Kirk Herbstreit pronounces with salesman-like authority who should stay on the island based on personal appeal and shrewd scheduling. In still more real terms, it's the football money game, with your equitable host, Chris Fowler.

And why not turn the sport over to the hucksters of the Big 12? When you're sitting sideways on your couch, eating Ben and Jerry's, reading Paul Finebaum and flipping back and forth from the Simpsons to Sports Center, why bother to wake yourself up from the anesthesia? In the end, the fool's lantern will have done its work quite well. Besides, Steve Spurrier left Florida a long time ago for the NFL. Who else to venerate among the big six?

(In the league, the coaches come and go, except for the Pumpkin and Michael Angelo. Tommy Tuberville has won a higher percentage of games against Top 10 opponents than any of his rivals, and 24 or the last 26, but nobody notices).

Les Miles leads the LSU Tigers.

So then we have Les Miles, formerly of mediocre Oklahoma State; Miles, who, upon Saban's departure, inherited a bayou full of talent and a bazooka-armed quarterback who knows nearly nothing of what all he is capable of accomplishing. Miles also walked into Baton Rouge at the time of Katrina, the killer hurricane who left over a thousand dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Since then, the Bengal Tigers have eerily waltzed through the season, winning barely, but winning nevertheless. Opponents have missed field goals--or allowed their kicks to be blocked--and dropped passes with agonizing regularity.

But here and now LSU stands on the verge of its second SEC title in three years, under a new coach and with a different quarterback. Is it the talent? Or the coach? Or just lady luck? "All three" is just too easy of an answer, yet that is all you can say and not be wrong. In any event though, the least proven factor is the coach. At this stage of their careers, both Richt and Miles are still pretending, yet one will win Saturday and take his place and show his face on the all-too public airwaves of ESPN and its sister stations stations. So who will it be? Who can survive the pressure of a championship game? And who shall we vote off the island? LSU 22, Georgia 20.

Editor's Note: Mark Green's record is 66-19 (.776) for the season.

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