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Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2002 9:52 AM EST
NCAA FOOTBALL PREVIEW
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No. 22 Arkansas (9-3) at No. 4 Georgia (11-1) (southeastern Conference Championship Game)
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Arkansas Razorbacks
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GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Georgia Bulldogs
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ATLANTA (Ticker) -- After a steady diet of Florida and Tennessee, the Southeastern Conference championship game will have a different look this year.

Fourth-ranked Georgia makes its first appearance in the SEC title game Saturday at the Georgia Dome when it faces Arkansas, which few expected to get this far.

The Bulldogs (11-1), who are still entertaining national championship aspirations, are the first team other than Florida and Tennessee to represent the SEC East in the title clash. The Gators have made seven appearances and the Volunteers three.

On the other side of the ledger, Arkansas (9-3) becomes the fifth different team in as many years to win the SEC West crown. Every West Division team has played in at least one SEC title game except Mississippi.

The Razorbacks made their way to Atlanta by dethroning defending SEC champion Louisiana State in dramatic fashion last week as Matt Jones tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Decori Birmingham with nine seconds remaining to give Arkansas a 21-20 victory.

The Razorbacks finished in a tie with LSU and Auburn, but won the tiebreaker to earn their second trip to the SEC championship. Arkansas lost its previous appearance, falling to Florida, 34-3, in 1995.

"This is a great, great win," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "That's (SEC title game) always one of our goals, if you look at the booklet we give to players. We want to go to Atlanta. The way you go to Atlanta is by playing a very tough SEC schedule and you want to win the West."

With top-ranked Miami hosting Virginia Tech five hours before kickoff in Atlanta, Georgia will know its fate in the national championship picture when it takes the field. The Bulldogs moved up to third in the latest BCS standings after Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma last week and could be in line to get the second berth in the Fiesta Bowl with Ohio State if the Hokies upset the Hurricanes.

But Georgia Mark Richt does not want his players getting caught up in the Miami game, fearing it could be a distraction.

"I don't think we'll watch (the Miami game)," he said. "I think there's just too much danger in putting too much on that game. It could certainly be a downer for us going into our game. We've really got to make sure the SEC championship is the foremost thing in our minds."

Georgia did not get caught looking ahead to Saturday's game, drubbing Georgia Tech, 51-7, to reach 11 wins for the six time in school history.

Musa Smith ran for 121 and a touchdown on 20 carries to become Georgia's first 1,000-yard rusher since Garrison Hearst in 1992. Smith raised his total to 1,073.

The Bulldogs are seeking their first SEC title since 1982, when Herschel Walker led Georgia to a 11-0 regular season and the top ranking in the country. However, the Bulldogs were denied a national championship, losing to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

A victory Saturday will enable Georgia to match a school record for wins. The Bulldogs went 12-0 in 1980, when they captured their last national title.

Arkansas is seeking its first SEC crown since 1989, when it shared the title with Alabama and Tennessee.

The Razorbacks have been overlooked most of the season and only moved into the top 25 after beating LSU, but they quietly have put together a six-game winning streak after splitting their first six games.

While not flashy, Arkansas boasts the top rushing offense in the SEC, averaging 243.3 yards per game on the ground. In addition, the Razorbacks are No. 2 in SEC against the tun, yielding just 108.2 yards per game.

Fred Talley is Arkansas' top rushing threat and also went over 1,000 yards after running for 118 yards and a score against LSU.

Georgia will have a distinct home-field advantage and with the game a short distance from its campus in Athens, the school was given an additional 2,200 tickets by the SEC.

Georgia has won the last two meetings with Arkansas - 38-7 in Fayetteville in 2000 and 34-23 last season in Athens - to take a 5-3 lead in the all-time series.


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