3:30 PM ET, September 28, 2013
Sanford Stadium, ATHENS, GA
Quarterback Aaron Murray can't imagine any school going through the sort of gauntlet Georgia has faced in the opening month of the season.
After spending most of his young life cherishing every moment in Georgia's Sanford Stadium, LSU signal-caller Zach Mettenberger can't wait until this visit is done and over with.
The No. 9 Bulldogs will become the fourth team in the BCS era to play three top 10 teams in the first four games as they face sixth-ranked LSU and Mettenberger, who left the Bulldogs in disgrace in 2010.
According to STATS, North Carolina in 2001 and both Arizona and Tulsa in 2011 were the only other teams in the last 16 seasons to face such a daunting schedule at the beginning of the season.
The Tar Heels went 1-2 against their top 10 opponents; Arizona and Tulsa both dropped all three games.
Georgia is looking to win two of three, having lost at then-No. 8 Clemson 38-35 in the season opener before knocking off South Carolina 41-30 at home when the Gamecocks were ranked sixth. The Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 SEC) beat North Texas 45-21 last Saturday.
"Everybody says, 'Oh man, that must stink.' But I think it's fun. I think everybody on this team thinks it's fun," Murray said. "It's fun preparing for these big type of games. It's fun playing in them. It adds a lot more excitement to the week."
If the Bulldogs can knock off the Tigers (4-0, 1-0), they'll likely be a serious national championship contender come late November.
"We definitely control our own fate," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "If we beat LSU ... that would boost us up in the polls. People would favor us more and realize we're still a title-worthy team."
After LSU, though, the schedule breaks largely in Georgia's favor.
No. 20 Florida is the only team among the last eight regular-season opponents currently ranked, and the Gators are hardly in a good place after losing quarterback Jeff Driskel to a season-ending injury last weekend.
Not that the Bulldogs are getting ahead of themselves, but the Tigers look like the last major stumbling block for a team that came oh-so-close to reaching the BCS title game last season.
"If you have a chance to win the SEC, you pretty much know every game has national championship implications," tight end Arthur Lynch said. "First and foremost, the goal is to win the SEC East. We've been SEC East champions twice. We've been in the SEC championship game the last two years, but haven't had a chance to win. The next goal is to make that step. Whatever comes after that is gravy."
LSU has top-ranked Alabama in its way as it tries to win the SEC West and visits the Crimson Tide on Nov. 9, but the Tigers are focused on Georgia -- especially Mettenberger, who is on pace to have one of the best seasons ever by an LSU quarterback.
His 10 scoring passes and 1,026 yards passing are the most by an LSU quarterback through four games. Earlier this season, his five scoring passes against UAB set an LSU single-game record. He ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency, behind only Murray, his former teammate.
Georgia coach Mark Richt watched Mettenberger grow up in the football operations building, where Tammy Mettenberger has worked since her son was 8 years old. He remembers a young Zach visiting his mom at work, often wearing Georgia red, being on the field on game days and meeting his players.
Richt later gave Mettenberger a scholarship, but then had to dismiss him when the redshirt freshman was embroiled in legal trouble over his treatment of a woman at a bar not long after 2010 spring practice.
"We all really like Zach and want the best for him, but just don't want him to win the game this weekend," Richt said.
When LSU last played Georgia in the 2011 SEC title game and won 42-10, Mettenberger was a third-string quarterback in his first year with the Tigers after transferring from junior college. He didn't play a snap, but remembers a number of Bulldogs fans expressing their opinions about him in the Georgia Dome that night.
"It was pretty bad two years ago getting heckled and I didn't even play so I can imagine it's just going to be that much better this time around," Mettenberger said. "I'm expecting the worst, but I've just got to go in there with a level head and play football. ... I'm looking forward to Sunday morning tremendously."
Mettenberger doesn't deny he used to dream of charging out of the tunnel at Sanford Stadium wearing that trademark red helmet with the black 'G' on the side. He readily acknowledges he has no one to blame but himself for the fact that never happened, but also says he's learned from it and grown comfortable with the unexpected turn his career took thereafter.
"My life has ended up here at LSU and I couldn't be happier with it," Mettenberger said. "I'm proud to call myself a Tiger. I'm just excited to go into another SEC opponent's stadium and go in there and get a win."
Top 25 Overview
No. 6 LSU (4-0) hasn't played a true road game this season, and it's drawing a tough assignment for its first: taking a rebuilt defense to face one of the nation's top offensive clubs in No. 9 Georgia (2-1). John Chavis' young defense must play its best game so far in order to remain unbeaten.
|Avg Points Allowed||24.4||32.5|