b>Editor's Note: Mark Green finished the regular season with a record of 74-24 (.755) on his SEC football game predictions.
In many ways the 11-1 Georgia Bulldogs have been better than expected this season. Two early-season narrow escapes against Clemson and South Carolina did nothing to support the contention by some that Georgia had a team capable of winning not only the SEC, but making a run at an undefeated season and a National Championship as well. Convincing wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech plus landmark decisions at Auburn and at Alabama have erased all doubt that the Dawgs can play, despite the ball-and-chain that has been reserve QB D.J. Shockley.
For some reason, Georgia Coach Mark Richt has felt the need to keep his young redshirt freshman QB happy, and that need, when it's all said and done, may prove to be the reason UGA will not be playing for the National Title in January. In Georgia's only loss of the season so far, Shockley threw a shocking interception to Florida safety Gus Scott who returned the pick for a difference-making touchdown Any further shuffling of important personnel at this juncture of the season could cost Georgia more than a single game.
Arkansas, by contrast to the athletic and high-flying Georgia finesse game of QB David Greene, WR Fred Gibson, WR Terrence Edwards and RB Musa Smith, relies on the power running game. In fact, using option QB Matt Jones almost as a decoy, the Pigs have made a good living rooting out the opposition between the tackles this season. And why not? All-World right tackle Shawn Andrews may be the SEC's most dominating run-blocker and he teams with a solid Razor front wall (which includes 300-plus TE Jason Peters) to make Arkansas the leading rushing team in the SEC, and the eighth best in the country. In fact, the Fayetteville Bacon is slicing up the opposition to the tune of 5.1 yards per carry. TBs Fred Talley, Cedrick Cobbs and D'Arrius Howard have teamed up with Jones to make the passing game nearly unnecessary (except for an occasional game-winning Hail Mary).
What separates these two teams from the pack, however, is not necessarily what they do with the ball, but what their opponents have not been allowed to do with it. Georgia ranks 24th in the nation in total defense; Arkansas 29th. Surprisingly, the Pigs' pass defense has been a statistical weakness, despite starting what is arguably the most talented secondary in the country. CBs Batman Carroll and Lawrence Richardson and safeties Jimmy Beasley and Ken Hamlin are all future NFL draft choices, perhaps all future NFL starters. Even so, the Pigs have played somewhat soft this year, giving up 224.5 yards per game through the air. However, they have produced their share of turnovers in the process, so the only statistic that really matters for the Razorbacks is nine wins and an SEC Western Division Championship.
Conference championship games have often been a proving ground for the underdog, and this game has the makings of a good one, as it matches extremely athletic players with contrasting styles. The Auburn Tigers, as well as several other teams around the country, could use a Georgia win as that would likely settle the bowl slate by putting Auburn in the Orlando, Florida in Tampa, LSU in Dallas and Arkansas in Nashville.
But the games aren't played to please other teams. Arkansas can give its SEC brethren a dose of castor oil by upsetting the Dawgs in Atlanta, and the sweet Sugar Pig-lickins in New Orleans would only serve to rearrange the pecking order for the other five bowl-eligible conference teams. Arkansas doesn't really care about that, and for that matter, neither does the SEC in general. Expect no assistance from anyone outside of Mark Richt, David Greene, Musa Smith, and, oh no--D.J. Shockley. GEORGIA 27, ARKANSAS 24.