Saturday's SEC Championship between Florida and Auburn is devoid of its typical national-title implications, but the game's appeal should be higher than ever in Columbia and Knoxville, Tenn.
Fans of South Carolina and Tennessee are taking a decided interest in Saturday's game at the Georgia Dome (4:30 p.m., ABC-Channel 6), primarily because they are decidedly uninterested in traveling there for the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 to play Georgia Tech.
A New Year's Day bowl could be at stake for both. The Gamecocks are pulling for Florida, while the Volunteers have plenty to gain with an Auburn victory.
A Gators win would send No. 18 Auburn to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., and force the Outback Bowl to choose South Carolina or Tennessee to play No. 20 Ohio State. If Auburn wins, the Vols already have agreed to play Michigan in the Citrus. The Gators would settle for the Outback, sending the unranked Gamecocks to the Peach.
Though Outback officials originally planned to announce their selection after the SEC title game, they are considering releasing a provisional selection this week regarding the 7-4 Gamecocks and 8-3 Vols in the event Florida wins.
Mark Womack, executive associate commissioner of the SEC, said Tuesday that the conference is encouraging the bowls to expedite the process.
"If we can move forward with trying to position all of our bowl teams, the sooner people know where they're going, the better off everybody is," Womack said.
The Cotton Bowl, played in Dallas at 11 a.m. on New Year's Day, has emerged as a possible destination for the Vols if the Outback takes South Carolina. Matchups in consideration are Tennessee versus Big 12 members Nebraska or Kansas State. The No. 21 Vols have played the Cornhuskers in the postseason two of the past three years.
Georgia's bowl destination is the subject of less uncertainty. The Bulldogs are one of three 7-4 teams from the SEC - LSU and Mississippi State are the others - being considered for the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Georgia could have an advantage based on geographical proximity.
Last Saturday, Georgia fans were cursing the sheet. Last season, they were thanking it.
The sheet in question is the list of percentages most coaches consult when determining whether to kick an extra point or try for a two-point conversion, depending on the situation.
In last week's 27-15 loss to Georgia Tech, Georgia coach Jim Donnan opted for two-point conversions on two occasions as his team was rallying from a 27-3 deficit. Both tries failed, and Donnan's decisions were questioned late when the Bulldogs were down by 12 points and needed two touchdowns to tie or take the lead.
Georgia found itself on the winning side of the sheet in its Jan. 1 victory over Purdue in the Outback Bowl. The Boilermakers reeled off four straight touchdowns in the first half, but kicker Travis Dorsch missed the extra point on the second score.
Coach Joe Tiller consulted the sheet and opted for two-point conversions, both of which failed, on the second and third touchdowns.
Had Tiller chosen extra points - and provided they were successful - Georgia would have faced a 27-18 deficit rather than the 25-18 margin they surmounted with a late touchdown to force overtime in a 28-25 win.
South Carolina was by far the SEC's worst team inside the red zone in 2000.
The Gamecocks were inside opponents' 20-yard line 42 times this season but scored on 25 occasions for a 59.5-percent clip. The closest to South Carolina was Kentucky, which scored on 30 of 41 trips inside the red zone (73.2 percent).
The Gamecocks scored 15 touchdowns, 10 field goals and came away with nothing 17 times, an SEC high.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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