For Georgia, there might not have been a College Football Playoff spot on the line Saturday in Atlanta.

But there was a very prestigious, very important trophy at stake.

A prestigious, important trophy the Bulldogs failed to win last year on the same day (well, it was Dec. 4 last season, not the 3rd, but you get the point), in the same domed stadium in Atlanta, with the same No. 1 ranking and the same perfect 12-0 record that didn’t stay perfect when they trudged out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium that night.

So, for Georgia, there was an SEC championship trophy to win, the 1 the Bulldogs left on the proverbial table in last year’s 41-24 loss to Alabama.

And, sure, Georgia won The Big 1 a little over 5 weeks later in Indianapolis, beating the same Bama team to win its 1st national championship since 1980.

And that meant everything.

But it didn’t mean Georgia won everything it possibly could in 2021, and Saturday was a chance to rectify that. It was a chance to win that always-coveted SEC title on the way to a potential 2nd straight national title, and this time, almost exactly 1 year later, the Bulldogs weren’t going to leave another 1 of those SEC championship trophies on the table.

This time, Georgia wasn’t trudging out of The Dome in Atlanta.

This time, the Bulldogs were sprinting out of there.

This time, that prestigious SEC trophy was coming with them.

For the 1st time since 2017, after losses in this glamorous game in 2018, 2019 and the aforementioned 1 last year, the Georgia Bulldogs were Southeastern Conference champions. They took the early jabs from a feisty LSU team and punched back with a vengeance in a 50-30 victory that put them 2 CFP victories from a perfect, 15-0 season and a repeat national title.

This time, it was their time in Atlanta.

This time, it was Stetson Bennett leading his team to that conference championship trophy after he led the Bulldogs to an 8-0 regular-season journey through the SEC jungle. Bennett was simply spectacular, throwing for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns with 0 interceptions, including a 22-yard TD strike to Ladd McConkey on the 2nd play of the 2nd quarter that gave Georgia a 21-7 lead and some separation that it never gave back.

The normally reliable Jack Podlesny missed a 43-yard field goal later in the quarter, but it was merely a speedbump for a Bulldogs team that was on a mission to do what even last year’s team couldn’t — yeah, bring that SEC trophy back to Athens.

That ferocious Georgia defense forced 3-and-outs on LSU’s next 2 possessions, and the Bulldogs cashed in both times with touchdown drives, with each one further driving the stake into the Tigers’ hearts.

First, it was a 13-play, 76-yard gem that Bennett (of course) finished with a 14-yard pass to Darnell Washington.

It was 28-7 Georgia, and LSU was teetering on the edge of being completely blown out.

Then came the knockout punch with 32 seconds left before halftime, when Bennett hooked up with Dillon Bell from 3 yards for a 35-7 lead that felt like 335-7 the way Georgia’s offense and defense were both operating.

The Tigers (9-4), ever the fighters, who shocked many by winning the SEC West in Brian Kelly’s 1st season as head coach, got a field goal right before half to make it 35-10. But this one was pretty much over as the teams jogged to the locker room, with LSU getting a big, bold check mark just for making it to Atlanta and Georgia on the way to getting that big, bold trophy that is only reserved for the teams who make the 1st Saturday in December count.

Recently, the SEC’s big trophy has mostly been reserved for the representatives of the SEC West, which had won all but 1 conference title game since eventual national champion Florida won it in 2008. That 2017 Georgia squad was the only SEC East team to win this game since then, and Bennett helped this Bulldogs edition join that team along with the 2002 and 2005 Georgia squads who captured the conference’s prize down the road at the old Georgia Dome.

Bennett’s 1st-half performance was virtuoso: 19-of-24 passing, 214 of those 274 yards, all 4 of those touchdown passes and, of course, 0 interceptions.

He was ruthless and on point, like his entire team.

Yeah, the offense piled up all that 1st-half yardage and points.

Yeah, it was that defense, too, which allowed a Jayden Daniels touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte late in the 1st quarter before it nearly pitched a shutout for the rest of the half.

But when the tale is told of this SEC Championship Game years or decades from now, one will be able to make the argument that the Bulldogs’ biggest play of the game was made by their special teams. That’s because we’ll never know how things could’ve gone had LSU just made that 32-yard field-goal attempt by Damian Ramos that would’ve given the Tigers a 3-0 lead late in the 1st quarter.

Sure, it would’ve only been 3-0, hardly anything for Bennett and the Bulldogs to worry about.

But it would’ve set the tone for Kelly’s team.

It would’ve given LSU a lead it could never quite grab on Saturday after Georgia’s 2nd-quarter explosion.

And it would’ve prevented the catastrophe that happened for the Tigers when Ramos’ kick was blocked by Nazir Stackhouse and run back by Christopher Smith for a stunning 96-yard touchdown that totally flipped the 1st-quarter momentum that LSU was building.

Instead of 3-0 LSU, it was 7-0 Georgia. It was a 10-point swing on the scoreboard that felt like a ton more than that on both sidelines.

And, yes, the resilient Tigers, coming off an ugly loss at Texas A&M in their regular-season finale, proved their resilience for seemingly the 100th time this season, responding with that Daniels touchdown pass a little over a minute later to tie it at 7-7.

But there was a Bennett TD pass to Brock Bowers in the waning seconds of the 1st quarter that gave Georgia the lead right back at 14-7.

And then there was a crushing interception by Smael Mondon Jr. on the 1st play of the 2nd quarter that turned into McConkey’s TD on the 2nd play of the 2nd quarter.

Suddenly, there were 14 Georgia points in 20 seconds, turning a 7-7 game into what felt like a 21-7 runaway.

LSU never recovered, although backup quarterback Garrett Nussmeier did give the Tigers a spark in the 3rd quarter with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Malik Nabers that followed a Bennett fumble, one of the few mistakes the Georgia quarterback made on a Saturday to remember.

The revitalized Tigers had 1 last shot to really make it a ballgame on their next possession, with Nussmeier driving LSU to the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line. But on 4th-and-1, with the 1 big trophy that eluded Georgia last year about a quarter and a half away from being raised, the Dawgs’ defense showed up in the biggest of ways by stopping Josh Williams for no gain.

That truly was the gritty Tigers’ last gasp.

Georgia took the ball and drove 95 yards on 8 plays, with Kenny McIntosh’s 2-yard touchdown run capping it off to give the Bulldogs a commanding 42-17 lead with 3:32 left in the 3rd quarter.

That separation was secured.

So was that giant SEC championship trophy.

The one that even the 2021 Bulldogs failed to win.

In 2022 though, it was finally theirs.

In this so-far magical season, in about 5 weeks, everything might be.