ATLANTA — LSU enters Saturday’s SEC championship game against Georgia as the prohibitive favorite with wins over Texas, Alabama, Florida and Auburn.
But the Bulldogs are the ones who have experience in the SEC championship game. Mercedes-Benz Stadium has played host to the game the past three years, and Georgia has represented the SEC East each time.
Stuck in a competitive division with Alabama and Auburn, LSU hasn’t won the SEC West since 2011, when it beat Georgia 42-10. Head coach Ed Orgeron said he has respect for Kirby Smart for leading his team to a division title three seasons in a row.
“Georgia is a great program and a great state to recruit,” Orgeron said. “It's indicative of his coaching and his recruiting, his third time being here. … I'm sure it's going to give them some confidence, but you know what, as a football team, it's never about the other team.”
Smart said Georgia’s third consecutive appearance is a testament to the hard work of the players.
“Our kids have done that. It's not something we take lightly or take for granted,” Smart said. “It's something that we expect to do, and we're going to always set that as a bar because, for us, this is where you go to go to take the next step, and that's important for us.”
LSU and Georgia aren’t exactly familiar foes, but they do have some history.
Saturday marks LSU’s sixth SEC championship game appearance, four of which have come against Georgia and two against Tennessee. The Bulldogs’ only win against the Tigers in the SEC championship game came in 2005. Quarterback D.J. Shockley and the No. 13 Bulldogs unexpectedly beat JaMarcus Russell and the No. 3 LSU Tigers.
Orgeron has turned the Tigers around since taking over for Les Miles during the 2016 season as an interim coach. A first time visitor to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, Orgeron has been impressed.
“We had smothered pork chops, fried chicken, collard greens,” Orgeron said. “The guys loved it. Just like one big family eating together.”
Keeping a consistent schedule is important for the players who have never experienced an SEC championship game before. They have played in some big games this season, highlighted by a 46-41 victory over Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9.
But the SEC championship game is something else entirely. For LSU, a loss would affect its seeding and could jeopardize its chances of reaching the College Football Playoff. For Georgia, a win is the difference between a CFP berth and a Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl appearance.
“You don't want to lose momentum early,” Smart said. “You want to be able to maintain that and start out aggressive and handle it well. … Both teams will face adversity in this game, and a lot of that is how you respond to it.”