Similarly, with a win or loss today, Tech (7-4 overall, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) may already be locked into the Dec. 30 Seattle Bowl or the Dec. 28 Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
That leaves state bragging rights as the incentive to win. In this case, that is more than enough.
"There can't be much more at stake than bragging rights,'' said first-year Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, who was raised in Americus, Ga., and therefore has a natural understanding of the rivalry. "I was recruited by them,'' said Gailey of Georgia, before noting "There's a difference between being recruited and being offered (a scholarship).''
One way to compare the Georgia-Georgia Tech series with conference rivalries — most notably, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee for Georgia and Florida State for Tech — is that there may be more to gain in the conference matchups, but there is more to lose in the battle for state bragging rights.
Even as SEC East and potential conference champions, with a loss today Georgia players would have to deal with implications that last all year. Every Georgia native on either team has some relationship — a family member, friend, former high school teammate or former high school rival — who plays for, or has loyalties with, the other I-A in-state school. For the losing team, that can make for a long offseason.
For seniors, this is the chance to have the last word in the rivalry.
"We really want to win this game,'' said Georgia offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, a member of a senior class that is 1-2 in the last three years against Tech. "You at least want to break even,'' Stinchcomb said. "We're not at a place where we can say we had a winning record against them, but you want to at least say you broke even.''
Is Tech the Bulldogs' biggest rivalry? Coach Mark Richt says Georgia fans have convinced him this is the biggest game. "You tour the state and no question, when you're in Columbus (the biggest rival) is Auburn; that's it,'' Richt said. "If you're up (in north Georgia), it's Tennessee. In certain places, it's Florida.''
Added Richt: "But everybody cares around the Tech game.''
For Richt, that means that even with nothing more than bragging rights on the line, this is the most important game of the year for the Bulldogs.
"Last year when we beat Tennessee, I got a positive reaction from the fans; people were excited about it,'' Richt said. "But after we beat Tech, (the reaction) was probably five times as much. You can tell people are just passionate about Tech.'' Added Richt: "We do have more than one (rival), but Tech is the one that is the most important.''
The feeling is the same on the other side of the rivalry. And unlike the Georgia-Auburn series, this is not a feel-good rivalry.
"I don't think there's respect,'' said Tech linebacker Recardo Wimbush. "We don't like each other. Throughout the year, you just think about them. You know you have other games to play, but I think it's just an all-out grudge. It's a free-for-all, whoever wants to get in just goes in and gives it their best.''
Despite losses to Clemson, Wake Forest, Maryland and Florida State in the ACC, Tech has two recent upsets over ranked teams — Virginia and North Carolina State. In its last four games, Tech has allowed only 13.8 points per game.
Led by linebackers Daryl Smith, Keyaron Fox and Wimbush, Tech ranks 11th in the nation in scoring defense — one spot ahead of Georgia.
Georgia is tied for second in the SEC with its average of 31.2 points per game, and the Bulldogs should have receiver Terrence Edwards back from a shoulder injury to play a limited role.
Edwards, Stinchcomb, linebackers Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert and other seniors will be honored before the game. Among the seniors being honored will be David Jacobs, who suffered a career-ending stroke last season.
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