We continue our "most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.
Today, we take a look at Georgia.
Key players: This is the type of high-profile game late in the season that could put somebody’s Heisman Trophy campaign over the top. Tre Mason, who rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown against Georgia a year ago, used Auburn’s final three games as a showcase that ultimately earned him an invitation to New York for the Heisman presentation. This year, both Nick Marshall and Todd Gurley will likely be in the running for the nation’s most prestigious award, and a big game in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry could make the difference.
Gurley wasn’t 100 percent for Georgia in last year’s game, but he still rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a season-high 10 passes for 77 yards. If healthy, he’s the best player on the field. Throw in a healthy Keith Marshall with incoming freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and the Bulldogs have one of the top backfields in college football.
The question will be how to slow down Marshall and the Auburn offense. Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, finished with 229 yards passing, 89 yards rushing and three total touchdowns in last year’s game. As a team, Auburn rushed for 338 yards. That can’t happen again if the Bulldogs want to come out on top.
Linebacker Ramik Wilson had maybe his best game last year against the Tigers with 18 tackles, two for a loss and a sack, and he’ll again be the focal point for Georgia’s defense.
Why it matters: You could argue that road trips to South Carolina and Missouri earlier in the season are more important to Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC East and getting to Atlanta for the conference title game, but the Auburn game late in the season will not only have SEC implications, but it could also play a major role in determining the field for the first College Football Playoff. If both teams stay healthy, it’s not crazy to think that the winner of this game will at least be in the mix.
Remember that Missouri lost to South Carolina midway through last season, but it won critical games late and found a way to reach the SEC Championship. A similar scenario could take place for Georgia this coming season.
There’s also the revenge factor. Everybody remembers how last year’s game ended -- a 73-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to Ricardo Louis in the final minute that later became known as the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare." That play will be shown again and again in the week leading up to the game, and the Georgia players would love nothing more than to put it rest with a dominant victory over their cross-division rival.
There are plenty of meaningful games, but this is the one that players and fans alike circled when the schedule came out.