Position By Position: Tigers Vs. Bulldogs

Columnist Phillip Marshall analyzes each position as the Tigers and Bulldogs renew the SEC's oldest football rivalry.

It was 20 years ago almost to the day that Georgia beat Auburn 19-14 on Nov. 13, 1982, in one of the great games I ever watched at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Pat Dye was in his second season as Auburn's head coach. Georgia had beaten Florida 44-0 in its previous game. That same Florida team had won a controversial 19-17 decision from Auburn.

No. 1-ranked Georgia was a big favorite, but Auburn fought until the end. The outcome might have been different, but tight end Ed West fell down when his feet got tangled up after catching a pass from Randy Campbell deep in Georgia territory. Had he stayed on his feet, he would have scored or at least had a first down inside the 10. Auburn's last hope died when a fourth-down Campbell pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

Led by a junior running back named Herschel Walker, Georgia celebrated its third consecutive SEC championship that day. Georgia football was at an all-time high, or so it seemed. Georgia hasn't won an SEC championship since.

Saturday, the Bulldogs will try to take a large step toward breaking that drought. If they beat Auburn, they will win the East Division championship outright. They will play in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

That 1982 game did more than give Georgia the SEC championship. Even in defeat, Auburn sent a clear signal that times had changed. The malaise of the late 1970s was over. A year later, Auburn would beat Georgia 13-7 in Athens to win its own SEC championship. Saturday's 106th renewal of this ancient series has the potential to be just as memorable. For every reason to expect Georgia to win, there is a reason to expect Auburn to win. It will be surprising if it doesn't go deep into the fourth quarter before it is decided.

Here is a position-by-position look at the two teams that will play this game of great importance:

WIDE RECEIVER: Not long ago, this would have been a no-brainer, but that was before Georgia lost Terrence Edwards and Damien Gary to injuries. Anyone who thinks that loss won't be severely felt isn't being realistic. Fred Gibson will probably be the best receiver on the field. Reggie Brown has big-time ability. Auburn has more numbers, but it can't match Georgia's experience. Edge to Georgia.

Mark Pera

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Georgia's Jon Stinchcomb might be the best in the country. Kareem Marshall is a battle-tested senior. Auburn's Mark Pera has yet to give up a sack this season. Marcus McNeill has remarkable talent, but he's a freshman. Edge to Georgia.

OFFENSIVE GUARD: Auburn's Monreko Crittenden won't make any All-SEC teams, but he probably should. Danny Lindsey might be quicker off the ball than any guard in the league. Georgia's Kevin Breedlove is another talented senior. Josh Brock, like McNeill, is a talented true freshman. Edge to Auburn.

CENTER: Auburn's Ben Nowland and Georgia's Ian knight are both seniors with all the things you look for in a center. Even.

TIGHT END: Auburn's trio of Lorenzo Diamond, Robert Johnson and Cooper Wallace are probably the best in the SEC. Georgia's Ben Watson is a good one. Big edge to Auburn.

David Greene is shown in action during Auburn's 24-17 victory over Georgia last season in Athens. Auburn is shooting for a fourth straight victory vs. the Bulldogs.

QUARTERBACK: This is another position that would have seemed a slam dunk not long ago. But that was before Jason Campbell moved into Auburn's starting lineup. Georgia's David Greene has been efficient for almost two seasons now. His biggest problem this season has been Georgia coach Mark Richt's insistence on playing redshirt freshman D.J. Shockley. Edge to Georgia.

RUNNING BACK: Georgia's Musa Smith is a good one, but Auburn's Ronnie Brown has been as good as any back in the nation for the last month. At fullback, Georgia senor J.T. Wall is a frightening sight at 5-11 and 260 pounds. Brandon Johnson might just be the best all-around football player on Auburn's offense. Edge to Auburn.

PLACEKICKER: Something tells me Damon Duval is about to get it going again, but Georgia's Billy Bennett has had it going all season. Edge to Georgia.

DEFENSIVE END: Georgia's David Pollack, a former fullback and noseguard, has blossomed into a superstar. Will Thompson is a third-year sophomore with speed and athleticism. Auburn has been mixing and matching defensive ends all season. Big edge to Georgia. DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Georgia folks will tell you Jonathan Sullivan is the most underrated player on their team. Auburn's Spencer Johnson, if healthy, can create havoc for an offense. But is he healthy? Edge to Georgia.

Dontarrious Thomas

LINEBACKERS: Georgia's Boss Bailey, who suffered a sprained knee last week against Ole Miss, says he's going to play. It would seem unlikely he will be full speed. Tony Gilbert is an all-star candidate in his own right. But Auburn's Mark Brown, Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby are the best group in the SEC if not the nation. Edge to Auburn.

Boss Bailey blocks a Tennessee field goal attempt. (Photo by Jim Hipple)

CORNERBACK: Georgia's Decory Bryant and Bruce Thornton have improved over the course of the season. Auburn has talent and depth with Carlos Rogers, Horace Willis, Roderick Hood and Rashaud Walker, all Georgia natives. Edge to Auburn.

SAFETY: Senior free safety Travaris Robinson has been Auburn's best defensive back for most of the season. Sophomore strong safety Junior Rosegreen is a playmaker. Georgia free safety Sean Jones and strong safety Kentrell Curry haven't had as much impact. Edge to Auburn.

PUNTER:< Whoever didn't make Duval a finalist for the Ray Guy Award either wasn't paying attention or doesn't know anything about football. Edge to Auburn.

Add it up and Auburn has the edge at seven positions, Georgia at six and one is even. That's about as close as you can get. Auburn has the homefield advantage, though historically, that hasn't meant much. In fact, Georgia is 3-1-1 on its last five trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn, on the other hand, has won five straight at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Georgia will play its 10th consecutive game without an open date. That is a long, hard grind. The guess here is that will be the difference in the game. The score? Auburn 27, Georgia 20.

The Auburn-Georgia game is the first of three that will have a major impact on the races in both divisions. Florida's visit to South Carolina and Alabama's visit to LSU also should prove most interesting. This week's predictions:

Alabama 23, LSU 21;

Florida 28, South Carolina 6;

Mississippi State 17, Tennessee 16;

Kentucky 35, Vanderbilt 14;

Arkansas 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 3.

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