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October 18, 2005

Georgia doesn't want to be this year's Auburn

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ATHENS, Ga. - Hmm, this sounds familiar. A Southeastern Conference team could go through the season unbeaten - and get shut out of a chance to play for the national championship.

No. 4 Georgia can only hope it doesn't turn out to be this year's version of Auburn.

"If it happens two or three years in a row, obviously there's a problem," quarterback D.J. Shockley said. "It's hard to think about that scenario playing out. There's a lot of football left to play, but if it does, they have to look at the system."

The Bulldogs (6-0, 4-0 SEC) were fourth in the first Bowl Championship Series standings of the season. While the position is enviable, it also raised the disturbing prospect of missing out on the Jan. 4 Rose Bowl, this season's BCS title game.

The only two spots that matter are 1 and 2. Defending national champion Southern Cal is on top, followed by Big 12 powerhouse Texas. If those teams win out, Georgia could probably do no better than a spot in the Sugar Bowl.

Virginia Tech is third in the BCS standings, another team the Bulldogs must get by to make a run for the roses.

"I'm not really a fan of the BCS," Georgia linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said. "I wish they would go back to the way it was in high school. Have a playoff and let us play different regions. Flip a coin and let us play the Pac 10 champion or the ACC champion. Make it kind of like college basketball."

Verdun Wheeler scoffed at playoff opponents who cite the extra demands on players as the biggest reason for sticking with the bowl system.

"Not too many people ask the players," he said. "That gets set by bigger people than us, sitting up there in those big offices."

The BCS was supposed to streamline the process for determining a national champion, but it just stirred up more controversy last season when three major-conference teams - USC, Oklahoma and Auburn - all finished with perfect records.

USC and Oklahoma took the top two places in the BSC standings and went on to the Orange Bowl, the designated championship game. Auburn was forced to settle for the Sugar.

Despite beating Virginia Tech to complete a 13-0 season, the Tigers finished second to USC in both major polls - and perturbed they didn't get a shot at the powerful Trojans, who routed Oklahoma in the Orange.

The Bulldogs took great interest in Auburn's plight, having lost to the Tigers 24-6 and feeling they were worthy of playing in the national championship game.

"I really feel that Auburn was the best team in the country last year," Verdun Wheeler said. "I wish they had gotten to play USC or Oklahoma. They would have shown they were the best team in the country."

Georgia coach Mark Richt doesn't want his players to get caught up in the BCS hype - especially with five games left in the regular season. While the Bulldogs are a heavy favorite in Saturday's game against Arkansas (2-4), there are several potential stumbling blocks on the way to an unbeaten season.

Start with next week's opponent. While Florida has struggled a bit in Urban Meyer's first season as coach, the Gators have beaten Georgia 13 of the last 15 years.

The Bulldogs have two other bitter rivals left to play, hosting Auburn on Nov. 12 and closing the regular season on Nov. 26 at Georgia Tech. Finally, there's the SEC championship game - if Georgia gets that far, unbeaten Alabama might be the opponent.

"Like I told the players, it doesn't mean anything if we get whipped this week," Richt said. "We have a pretty levelheaded group of seniors who know the jury is still out on us. We know we're good. We know we have a chance to do some special things. But how good can we be? No one knows for sure. We've still got a long way to go."

Still, Georgia has come far enough to at least ponder the possibilities.

The Bulldogs are well positioned in the East, with a chance to clinch a spot in the SEC's Dec. 3 championship game as early as next week. Florida looks vulnerable. Auburn is not as strong as last season. Alabama was hurt by the loss of star receiver Tyrone Prothro to a season-ending injury.

Then again, Georgia hasn't seemed as formidable as USC, Texas or even Virginia Tech. The Bulldogs were impressive in a 27-14 victory at Tennessee, but they didn't pick up a lot of style points in wins over South Carolina (17-15), Mississippi State (23-10) and Vanderbilt (34-17).

In the end, those games might hurt Georgia's chances of finishing in the top two - even if they go 12-0.

"I would be sad for the players if that happened," Richt said. "But I'm thrilled to death to think we could go through the season without losing a game."

Of course, Georgia would love an opportunity to test itself against a team such as the mighty Trojans.

"As long we take care of our business, we'll be OK," defensive tackle Ray Gant said. "People will realize the potential and talent that this team has, if they haven't already."

For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, check out UGASports.com.



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