Bulldogs, Tigers bracing for battle

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ATHENS, Ga. --- Time for the Southeastern Conference to start devouring its own, and see who survives at the end.

Fourth-ranked Louisiana State University faces No. 18 Georgia today for the first of what figure to be a series of elimination games within the league that has produced the past three national champions.

No wonder Bulldogs coach Mark Richt pulled a Rex Ryan, urging fans to be at their loudest for this huge game between the hedges.

"I want to encourage all our fans to get jacked up and ready to go," the low-key Richt said. "I want our students to become as crazed as always. I want them to make the pregame warm-up an exciting time. Get in the stands as fast as you can because this is going to be a special game. It's the kind of game everyone dreams about."

Georgia and LSU both are 2-0 in conference play, and this is actually the first in a series of playoff-like games that will narrow the field to two teams for the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 5. If past years are any indication, the winner in Atlanta that day will likely claim a spot in the BCS title game.

For now, the powerful conference has three of the top four teams in the Associated Press rankings, led by defending national champion and still-No. 1 Florida. Alabama is third and LSU next, the first time a conference has had so many teams this high since the final AP poll of the 1971 season.

While there's always the potential for upsets -- especially in the SEC -- the title race will likely be decided by a handful of games, a list that also includes Georgia vs. Florida on Oct. 31 and LSU vs. Alabama on Nov. 7.

"Everybody talks about rankings. Rankings have never made any difference to me and not to our football team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We understand we earn where we finish."

Even though the Bulldogs have struggled on defense and have one of the worst turnover ratios in the country (minus-nine), Richt believes his team has a legitimate shot at the conference title. This is Georgia's chance to prove it deserves a place alongside the Big Three after pulling out last-minute wins against South Carolina and Arizona State.

"We're pretty jacked up about this one," Richt said.

TODAY'S GAME

WHO: No. 4 LSU (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 18 Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC)

TIME: 3:30 p.m., CBS-Ch. 12

WHERE: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The winner remains unbeaten in league play, but it's probably a bigger game for LSU. The Tigers face top-ranked Florida next week; Georgia could lose and still decide its own fate when it faces Florida on Oct. 31.

DID YOU KNOW? The Bulldogs are 1-1 at home against top-10 teams under coach Mark Richt. They beat 10th-ranked Tennessee 18-13 in 2002, but they lost to eighth-ranked Alabama 41-30 a year ago.

OTHER GAMES

- Clemson at Maryland, noon (ESPNU)

- Georgia Southern at Wofford, 1:30 p.m.

- South Carolina State at South Carolina, 7 (ESPN Classic)

- Georgia Tech at Mississippi State, 7:30 (CSS)


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