Georgia inches closer to shot at National Title

ATHENS, Ga. — One year ago, Tennessee players and coaches were fielding questions about the possibility of playing for the national championship in the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for the Vols, that talk may have served as a distraction for the team's Southeastern Conference championship game against Louisiana State, and Tennessee was upset 31-20.

There is a lesson there for No. 4 Georgia as it begins practice today for Saturday's SEC championship game against Arkansas in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Georgia will face questions this week about the possibility of playing in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship if it beats Arkansas and Miami loses to Virginia Tech Saturday. The possibility of having a shot at the national championship could strain the focus of a team, which thus far has done an admirable job of not looking ahead.

"We need to address that,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "There's just no guarantee at all that if we won the game we'd go to the Fiesta anyway. Even if Miami lost, they still might out-point us (in the Bowl Championship Series standings).''

Georgia was No. 4 in both major polls Sunday. The new BCS poll will be released today.

Added Richt: "I hope we don't get too caught up in that, although it's exciting to think about. We really have to make sure the SEC championship game is foremost in our thoughts.''

Still, what Georgia fan, player or coach can ignore the possibilities?

"We've inched a little bit closer,'' Richt said of the team's national championship hopes. "There aren't that many things that have to happen to give us a chance, and it wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened. "We know we have a shot but we know we have to win this one to have a chance at the Fiesta Bowl.''

Virginia Tech's game at Miami is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff, so Georgia will know the final score before its 6 p.m. kickoff in the SEC championship game.

"I don't think we'll watch it as a team,'' said Richt of the Miami game. "It may work in the time frame of our day where we can see some of it. I think there's just too much danger of putting too much into that game because it can certainly be a downer (if Miami wins).''  

Added Richt: "We know the Southeastern Conference championship is what is at stake and that's incentive in itself. That will be our focus.'' Richt noted that he was "bummed out'' after Ohio State beat Michigan on Nov. 23, a game that locked up Ohio State's spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

Richt says he does not want his team's emotions to be similarly affected by watching the Miami-Virginia Tech game.

"We just can't get too emotionally involved in that thing,'' he said.

Georgia completed its regular season at 11-1 overall with perhaps its most impressive performance yet in a 51-7 rout of Georgia Tech Saturday. It marked Georgia's highest point total and largest margin of victory in the intrastate rivalry.

Georgia is the first team from the East other than Florida and Tennessee to play in the SEC championship game.

Georgia beat Arkansas 34-23 last year, but the Razorbacks have a different look with 6-foot-6 sophomore Matt Jones at quarterback. Arkansas also has a new defensive coordinator, Dave Wommack.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Sunday that focus should not be an issue for his players.

"They've seen Georgia on TV,'' Nutt said. "They know (Georgia) is going to be the No. 3 or No. 4 team in America. They know they're playing against a great team. I don't think I'm going to have to do much for motivation."

Arkansas (9-3) has won six straight to win the SEC Western division after a 1-3 start in league games.

NOTES: Georgia announced Sunday it has obtained 2,200 additional tickets for the SEC championship game and will distribute the tickets evenly between students and contributors.

According to Associate Athletics Director Freddy Jones, as many contributors as possible who were unable to purchase tickets will be contacted today. Any tickets not claimed from the contributors' share would be put on sale Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Butts-Mehre building.

The student sale will be Tuesday, on a first-come, first-served basis, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Stegeman Coliseum. Only students who signed up for the previous SEC championship game lottery and did not win will be eligible for these tickets ($50, cash only).  

Richt said there were no significant injuries from the Tech game. Damien Gary should return from his leg injury this week, giving Georgia its full corps of receivers.


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