Lost in the buzz over Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) blowout earnings and musical chairs at the helm last week is Big G's push into the Groupon-esque.

The world's leading search engine confirmed to social news website Mashable that it was beginning to test the sale of prepaid vouchers. The news site also unearthed what is presumably the offer sheet being used to woo merchants.

In theory, none of this should matter. It's late to the party. Google is already way behind Groupon and the Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN)-bankrolled LivingSocial. Groupon issued a press release this month indicating that its subscriber base has grown from 2 million to more than 50 million over the past year. LivingSocial cleared more than 1.3 million half-priced Amazon.com gift cards in a single day last week.

Even AOL (NYSE: AOL), with last year's repositioning of its Wow.com domain into a social coupon site, had a head start. As of this morning, Wow.com has more than two dozen cities available, though most of them are currently defaulting to a national deal.

Dot-com giants have also been challenged to cash in on Web 2.0 trends. Can you name a single portal giant that has excelled in social networking? Neither can I.

However, Google can't be ignored in this space. It's the global leader in online advertising. It already gives sponsors the ability to create offer-extension ads. It's also hungry enough to make its Google Checkout a platform, shoehorning it into Google Offers.

Yes, there's another play here beyond cashing in on the hot sponsored deal craze. Google Checkout is apparently the financial platform of choice for deal-seekers to cash in on its prepaid vouchers. Google Checkout has struggled to make a dent in eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) PayPal stronghold, but this could be a game changer if Google Offers takes off.

Big G is taking an aggressive tack here. Google is apparently offering merchants 80% of the business' share of the voucher proceeds within three days, and the balance within two months. Groupon pays out in thirds through three monthly installments. Google may be making itself vulnerable for merchants that go under or can't comply with the terms of the deal, but it doesn't have much of a choice. It can't just copy Groupon's terms.

Groupon's success has spawned countless imitators. Most of them will probably be toast in a year or two. The niche-specific companies have a better shot. OpenTable (Nasdaq: OPEN), Travelzoo (Nasdaq: TZOO), Yelp, and The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT) have thrown their hats into the Groupon-esque ring. They have the advantage of millions of loyal followers in their areas of specialty. Google can't afford to play small ball. It needs to go for the Groupon whale itself.

Big G is late, but it's not hopelessly late. As long as it can pull this off without alienating its gargantuan base of advertisers who don't feel like discounting their wares and services, it has a good shot here. Don't forget how Google Offers should dovetail nicely into the popular Google Maps, Android applications, and even Gmail.

Never underestimate a cash-rich company with a financial platform to promote and an online advertising business to defend.

Is it too late for Google to take on Groupon and LivingSocial? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.