No Mistake: Auburn a Major Georgia Rival

ATHENS – Most of their preseason goals have disappeared, but motivation in the SEC comes with each new opponent.

That's the philosophy Georgia's players have adopted, and Saturday's showdown with Auburn doesn't lack for excitement, regardless of the conference standings.

"For us, it's a chance to accomplish one of our goals," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "We don't have too many goals left that we can accomplish but this is one of them that's in our sights."

So many of those preseason goals are gone now, but while an SEC title is out of the question, Georgia's players know that seasons are most often defined by how they fare against their rivals.

For most teams, that's an easy picture to draw. For Georgia, rivalries present another long list of goals.

"When I go to the Bulldog Clubs, they will say, ‘Coach no matter what happens, you have to get this one,'" Richt said of Georgia's rivalry games. "You would think it's just one or two teams, but it's about five of them that they all feel like you've just got to have."

Auburn's place in the pecking order is a matter of debate, and left tackle Clint Boling said the intensity of the South's oldest rivalry remains in the eye of the beholder.

"Each Georgia fan probably has their own different biggest rival, whether it be Florida, Tech, Tennessee, Auburn," Boling said. "All the rivalry games are important, and that's the way we look at all of them."

The problem, however, is that while Georgia may have a long list of fierce enemies, Auburn is the lone rival that still carries a losing streak into this week's matchup.

Florida always tops a fan's wish list, but the Gators just wrapped up their second straight blowout victory over the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

Tennessee took strides up the scale of hatred among fans when it hired new coach Lane Kiffin, who managed to ruffle plenty of feathers with some brash talk in the offseason. The Volunteers backed that up with a thoroughly demoralizing 45-19 win over Georgia last month.

And no team crows louder after a win than in-state rival Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets fans have had plenty to brag about for the past year after Tech ended a seven-game losing streak with a 45-42 win in Sanford Stadium last season.

That leaves Auburn, the lone rival still waiting for bragging rights, and should Georgia fall to the Tigers this season, it would mark the first time since 1999 that all four rival schools had won their last meeting with Georgia. That season marked the beginning of the end for former head coach Jim Donnan and ushered in the Mark Richt era with a mandate to turn things around in the rivalry games.

So while the preseason goals may be gone, pride remains as much a motivator as any for the Bulldogs this season – and a chance to earn some redemption for past failures in rivalry games has helped to rekindle some recently dormant animosity.

"Last year, there wasn't as much emphasis on it," tight end Aron White said of the Auburn game. "This year, I feel like people are going to get up for it a little more. It's a night game, and we are trying to redeem ourselves this season and get bowl eligible. I think the rivalry is going to be a little bigger this year than it was last year."

Of course, the game looms large for Auburn, too. The Tigers senior class has never tasted victory over the Bulldogs, a rare occurrence in a series that has been marked by parity over the years.

In 113 meetings, just 49 points separate the two teams, and Auburn holds an edge of just two victories in the series. For the Tigers' seniors, finishing their careers with an 0-4 mark is simply unacceptable.

"This is big," said Auburn tailback Ben Tate, who ranks 12th in the country, averaging 113 yards per game on the ground. "I'm 0-3 against Georgia. ... They came in here last year, and we lost a tough one. I have a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Georgia. I'm going to get it out."

Georgia has a bad taste, too – not from any hard feelings aimed at Auburn, but from hard times the Bulldogs have faced in the past 12 months. The Tigers offer a chance for a happy ending to a story filled with too many tragic twists.

The big picture became blurry weeks ago, but those rivalry games always matter. And for Georgia, a meaningful opportunity amid a tumultuous season is too valuable to let slip away.

"We're trying to finish the season off right, and to do that, we've got to beat Auburn," Boling said. "We can kind of change the outlook on how the season's went if we can win these last three games."

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