Ranking the games: Time to hit the Plains

semerson@macon.comJune 19, 2012 

This is part of our series ranking Georgia's most important games in 2012, beginning with the least important, and continuing on to No. 1.

The criteria for ranking the games follows this basic criteria: Their role in shaping the ultimate success (or not) of the season, but with consideration given to rivalry, context of season, and caliber of opponent.

No. 12 was Florida Atlantic.

No. 11 was Georgia Southern.

No. 10 was Buffalo.

No. 9 was Ole Miss.

No. 8 was Kentucky.

No. 7 was Tennessee.

No. 6 was Vanderbilt.

No. 5 was Georgia Tech.

Next up, and clearly the anticipation is killing you, is ...

4. AUBURN

THE BASICS:
LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 8-5 overall, 4-4 SEC
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 9

WHEN: Nov. 10 (Georgia’s 10th game)

HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: Once again, where this game falls on the schedule dictates that it will have some importance for both teams. Normally one of these teams is either in the hunt for a division title, or can clinch it here. That would seem more likely to be the case with Georgia this year, just given the state of the West and the East. This year, unlike last year, this will be the final game in the SEC (regular-season, at least) for Georgia. Auburn, meantime, will still have Alabama two weeks later. In any case, this could prove to be the division clincher for Georgia, if most preseason prognostications prove true. If it’s not, it could mean it’s been a disappointing season for the Bulldogs. … It was one thing that the Georgia-Auburn series was preserved in the new SEC scheduling format. But what hasn’t been revealed is whether it’s place on the schedule will remain. Would fans of either school be upset if it moved, and thus diminished its importance – or would it diminish its importance at all?

LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: High, for a multitude reasons. There’s the rivalry, of course. There is the coaching subplot: How many times will we hear about Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez’s stints as Georgia’s defensive coordinator? God help us all. But the implications of the game itself could b huge. This game has sneaky big implications for Georgia, whose fans are tending to focus on the road trips Missouri and South Carolina. That’s understandable, because they’re in the division and earlier in the season. But this is a road game too. Auburn isn’t being picked by anyone, except maybe Octavia Spencer, to win the West. But that doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t be a tough out at home. If Nov. 10 arrives and Georgia still needs this one to win the division, it could end up being the game of the year. So why isn’t it higher on the list? Well, because it doesn’t fall in the “toss up” category, like the three that will follow on this list. At least not as I write this in June. (Forgive the hedging. Such is life when writing about games four months in advance.)

MORE ABOUT AUBURN: Gene Chizik, who is now 21-29 as a head coach in seasons he doesn’t coach Cam Newton, is back at coach. But there was turnover at both coordinator positions, in case you skipped reading about college football after last season. Gus Malzahn took his talents to Arkansas State, and he was replaced as offensive coordinator by Scott Loeffler, who comes from Temple. On defense, Ted Roof left with Auburn’s blessing to go to Central Florida, and was replaced by VanGorder, the nomadic mastermind who is attempting to look like a 1970s TV hearththrob. Martinez, who helped recruit many players on Georgia’s current defense, is the new secondary coach on the Plains. So yeah, this is a storyline for this game week. But all season, how quickly VanGorder can improve the defense – which ranked 81st nationally last year – and if Loeffler is a good SEC play-caller, will be paramount to the success of Auburn’s season.

WHO TO WATCH: Presumably Auburn will have a set starter at quarterback by this time. The Tigers didn’t name one after the bring, with Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley the top candidates, and Zeke Pike still having an outside a chance. Auburn slipped to 100th in the nation in total offense last year, with the passing game chiefly to blame. Moseley didn’t do enough during his 10 appearances to cement the position, so Frazier, who is more of a dual-threat, seems likely to at least get a shot and have the highest upside. he was one of the nation's top quarterback recruits two years ago. If Frazier can nail down the spot and be dependable, Auburn has a chance to surprise people this year.

LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Georgia throttled Auburn, 45-7, last November, in probably the Bulldogs’ finest all-around performance of the season.

THIS TIME: Don’t bet on that kind of a blowout. We also can’t predict with much certainty this far out that Georgia will even be the favorite this time. But if the game were in September, the Bulldogs would be the favorite. For what that's worth.

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