ATHENS, Ga. (WRCB) -- You'll have to forgive the University of Georgia football team for taking an extra moment to enjoy this weekend's return trip to the Georgia Dome.
Two months removed from the hot seat, head coach Mark Richt and his Bulldogs are riding a ten-game winning streak right into the program's fourth SEC Championship Game appearance.
"I feel like this is a national championship game for us," said linebacker Mike Gilliard. "I'm just excited. We all are. We're playing the number one team in the country. LSU is a great team."
And that's where the celebration ends.
The top-ranked Tigers offer a challenge greater than any the Dogs have faced in 2011, and are considered by many to be a lock for the BCS National Championship Game win or lose this Saturday.
LSU owns three wins over teams ranked in the top three this year (Oregon, Alabama and Arkansas), and takes a 7-0 record against ranked teams in 2011 into the 4 p.m. ET kickoff with No. 12 Georgia.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, lost their only game against a top-ten team this year, a 35-21 season-opening letdown in the very same Georgia Dome to now ninth-ranked Boise State.
"They're just a tenacious bunch," said Richt. "When you watch them on film, no one is ever loafing. They get after you and they wear you down. At the end of the game, usually most people have said uncle.
"It will be a great challenge for us to go at them for 60 minutes."
It's usually the LSU defense that causes teams to tap out. The Tigers' rank second in the nation in total defense, and reside in the top four in scoring and rush defense as well.
"It's the best defense we'll face this year," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who hopes to join quarterbacks David Greene and D.J. Shockley in leading UGA to a title game win. "They've got speed everywhere. Defensive line, linebacker, defensive back.
"They just cause havoc for offenses."
The Bulldogs' defense isn't as impressed.
"Our defense I think is better than theirs," proclaimed UGA defensive back Sanders Commings on Tuesday. "I'm not going to be worried about how good they say they are or people saying that we don't have a chance."
And Commings wasn't the only Dog speaking out. Linebacker Jarvis Jones was the first to offer up some bulletin board material for the Tigers on Sunday.
"I mean, everybody praises LSU's defense, but I think — I know — we've got a pretty good defense," Jones said in Sunday's teleconference. "We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play. We do our job and get out on the field. We like having fun. We love playing football. We¹re aggressive. We play just as well as them.
"A lot of people don't give us credit of how they play and how we play. I think we play two different styles. I think our defense is just as good as theirs, if not better."
The numbers back up the Bulldogs' claims. Georgia is fifth nationally in total defense, and also ranks in the top ten in scoring and rushing. UGA also boasts the SEC's sack-leader in Jones, and interception-leader in safety Baccari Rambo.
"This is another challenge for us as a defense to prove to the country that we are one of the top defenses in the country," Gilliard said. "Playing the top team in the country, how much better can you get than right here?"
It's also a chance for Georgia to erase the lousy first impression it made in early September on the same stage.
After all, it's often not where you start, but instead where you finish that matters most.
"We're a lot better than we were when we started. Are we good enough to win this game? I don't know, we'll see," Richt said. "I've got a lot of confidence in these guys. I believe in what we've been doing when it comes to the process of preparing, believing and fighting. We've done all that stuff.
"We've come a long way, and we'll soon see just how far that is."