- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Georgia has won SEC championships under Mark Richt, played in BCS bowl games and been a fixture in the Top 25 polls.
But controlling its own destiny this late in the season in the national championship race?
This is new ground for the Bulldogs.
As junior receiver Rhett McGowan tweeted Saturday night following Stanford’s upset of Oregon, the playoffs start now.
Good luck in getting Georgia coach Mark Richt to look past the first round of those playoffs, which begins Saturday at home against Georgia Tech.
For that matter, good luck in getting Richt to even acknowledge that the No. 3 Bulldogs are smack dab in the middle of the national championship picture.
“Right this minute, all I can think about is Georgia Tech,” said Richt, obviously mindful of how these past few weeks of the college football season are unlike anything else a team in BCS contention faces to this point.
It’s almost like "The Twilight Zone." Weird things start to happen, and the pressure leads to stunning losses.
Just ask Oregon or Kansas State ... or even Alabama from two weeks ago.
“I think our players understand how important this game is, regardless of what’s going on outside of this game,” Richt said. “So I think we’ll be able to focus on the right thing. We need to. That’s for sure.”
Richt and the Bulldogs are saying all of the right things, and there’s no question that they’re playing their best football of the season right now.
Still, they don’t really have a road map handy of what they’re about to navigate.
Some will point to the 2007 season, when the Bulldogs were hovering at No. 4 in the BCS standings heading into SEC championship week.
Georgia fans, many of whom still think the Bulldogs got the shaft, don’t need a refresher course on what happened that next Sunday, when the final BCS standings were released.
The top two teams in the BCS standings -- Missouri and West Virginia -- both lost. The Mountaineers inexplicably fell to bitter rival Pittsburgh, which entered the game with a 4-7 record.
The hope in Dawg Land was that Georgia would move up to No. 2 and face Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game. But the voters had other ideas and moved LSU past Georgia in the two human polls.
Both teams had two losses, but what killed the Bulldogs was not playing in the SEC championship game. LSU won the SEC championship with a 21-14 victory against Tennessee, providing just enough pop for the Tigers to move up, even though they lost at home the final weekend of the regular season to unranked Arkansas.
Georgia didn’t control its own destiny in 2007. It’s a different story this season.
Two more wins, and the Bulldogs will be in Miami on Jan. 7 playing in the Discover BCS National Championship Game -- and they won’t have to rely on the voters this time.
Understandably, Richt wants no part of what the bigger picture might hold for the Bulldogs.
That said, we’ll paint it for him.
This is exactly the kind of breakthrough the program needs. It’s what the fans have been clamoring for. It’s what Richt needs to finally get some of the critics off his back.
Now comes the hard part: Going out and doing it.
The Bulldogs have been plenty resilient the past two seasons. They’ve fought through disappointing losses during the first part of the schedule and weathered a swarm of off-the-field distractions.
What they haven’t done is play particularly well in big games.
Here’s their chance to buck that trend, because they don’t get any bigger than these next two weekends.
Somebody cue "The Twilight Zone" music.
3dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf