Changing Perceptions

ATHENS - Auburn is the college football flavor of the moment.

Georgia is a .500 team. Naturally, Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin was asked Monday if this set up as a nothing-to-lose situation for his team.

He went the other way.

"It's the complete opposite, I feel like," Boykin said. "I mean, we've got everything to prove. Playing a team like this on prime-time television, them probably being the No. 1 team in the nation. Everyone's gonna be looking to watch them. It's a great opportunity for us to come out and play with a lot of passion and show that Georgia is still a really good team."

Boykin is right: It could redeem the Bulldogs' season. But it could also deepen the misery.

Even if they don't spring the upset, it's vital for the Bulldogs to at least have a good showing on Saturday. The perception of their program will be on the line, because there will be more eyeballs on this Georgia game than any other this season.

It occupies the CBS prime afternoon slot. Auburn sports information director Kirk Sampson said he expects between 550-600 credentials to be issued. Dan Patrick is among the media luminaries planning to attend.

The Cameron Newton-NCAA story has made Auburn into perhaps THE story in college football right now. On Saturday, Georgia can't play the role of the Washington Generals.

"We know this is a nationally-televised game," Georgia senior defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "Everybody's tuning in to see Newton. But you know, we're underdogs by a lot, and to have a stage like this, it's an opportunity to show that we are a good defense. It's an opportunity to show that despite the way our season's been, that we're still a team to be noticed."

It matters to the future of the program as well.

Isaiah Crowell is expected to be at the game. The tailback from Columbus' Carver High School is considered the top remaining Bulldog target.

But they are also in the mix for a number of other highly-regarded prospects: Thomasville defensive end Ray Drew, Atlanta athlete Damien Swann, Valdosta tight end Jay Rome and Valdosta defensive back Malcolm Mitchell.

So yes, it's come to this: Georgia, one of the winningest programs of the past decade, now may just be satisfied with a moral victory.

This year's record isn't good. But in the search for a silver lining, Georgia so far has been able to lean on two facts:

- It's never been blown out this year (an average of a touchdown per loss).

- It is 4-2 with A.J. Green back, the two losses coming on a late fumble at Colorado and to Florida in overtime.

A blowout loss to Auburn, as good as Newton and the Tigers are, would give the critics ammunition, a chance to say the team didn't really improve. It would lead to a rash of speculation over the next two weeks that the Georgia Tech game is a must-win for Richt and his staff. (That may not be true, but it will still be written.)

But a win at Auburn, and all is forgiven. Even a close win shows fight, and adds to the "what-if" factor of a full season with Green.

It's also Georgia's last chance to avoid be relegating to a pre-New Year's Day bowl. The Gator and Outback are still possibilities – but only if Georgia is 7-5. Failing that, the Bulldogs will have to beat Georgia Tech to get into the Music City, Liberty or Birmingham Bowls.

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