AUBURN, Ala. --An evening that began with at least a bit of hope for Auburn ended as a coronation for Georgia.
Throughout the week, Auburn fans clinged to the last thread of hope that anything can happen, especially in this storied rivalry. Their day was made early when the announcement came in from Tuscaloosa:
Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
A roar echoed through the stadium. Alas, that would be about all Tiger fans had to cheer about the rest of the evening.
The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, all in the first half.
By the fourth quarter, Jordan-Hare Stadium resembled Sanford Stadium on a spring G-Day game. Red and black dominated the landscape of otherwise near empty bleachers. Dog fans cheered on players they usually only see in April or against the likes of Florida Atlantic.
The final score was 38-0 Georgia, but could have been much if not for a merciful fourth quarter.
For Auburn, the speculation about Coach Gene Chizik's status will be inevitable.
For Georgia coach Mark Richt, the speculation about his status, even as recent as a month ago, seems distant and irrelevant now. The Dogs locked up their fifth SEC East title in the last 11 years under Richt.
Just a month ago, after losing to South Carolina 35-7, Georgia looked like a pretty decent team that didn't have the stomach or heart of a champion.
Now, the Dogs look every bit like a team deserving of a return to the SEC Championship Game. Oddly, that Alabama loss may have cost the Dogs their last remaining shot at reaching the BCS national championship game.
Beating an undefeated Alabama team in the SEC Championship Game certainly would have carried a lot of weight. But even then, the Dogs would have needed a lot of help if Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame all remained undefeated. As it stands now, even if they get that help and somehow manage to beat Bama, it might not be enough to jump into one of the top two spots.
That South Carolina loss may have left too deep of a negative impression.
But the truth is Georgia has improved significantly since that loss. That was evident Saturday night even if Auburn did offer little resistance.
The Bulldogs fell three yards short of amassing 500 in total offense. And they would have if Welch had thrown the ball away instead of taking a sack.
But the offense has played well all season, except for that disastrous night in Columbia, S.C. The defense is starting to play at a championship level.
The Dogs gave up a few big pass plays to Jonathan Wallace, the freshman from Central who played solidly if not spectacularly. His 181 passing yards were the lone bright spot for the Tigers. Otherwise, the Dogs' defense dominated as it did throughout much of last season and this year against Florida.
Free safety Bacarri Rambo played like the All-American he was last year. Rambo had one interception and nearly came up with another. He ripped the ball out of Emory Blake's arms to force a fumble, which teammate Mike Gilliard recovered. He had several punishing tackles.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones had two sacks. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree had 10 tackles and a sack.
Even the special teams -- too often the Dogs' weakness -- enjoyed perfect night.
Will it be enough to vault the Dogs ahead of Alabama in the polls and, importantly, the BCS standings.
We will soon find out. But this much is indisputable. The Dogs have a chance to win the championship of the best conference in college football.