You read that headline correctly. Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) and No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) has been dubbed a "play-in" for the right to face media darling Notre Dame in the BCS national championship.
Nonsense. Call me biased (did the SEC Banter tagline give it away?), but the national championship kicks off Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Georgia Dome. As champions of the nation’s finest football conference, the Dawgs or Tide will have an entirely legitimate claim as the best team in college football and the de facto national champion.
The SEC Championship is the national championship because the winner will demolish Notre Dame in the BCS title game. Nick Saban with a month to prepare for a slow, typically midwestern Notre Dame offense would be nasty. Fresh legs on Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall would be nothing like Notre Dame’s defense has seen all year.
Because the SEC champ will embarrass Notre Dame, the BCS title game amounts to an exhibition match with all the excitement of an NFL preseason game. A phony contest. The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Atlanta can rest assured that it has won the national championship. Perhaps even enjoy the holidays knowing all they have to do is show up against an overrated, phony Irish team.
Brief aside: Is there anything more phony than someone saying they want to get together "after the holidays?" For example, you run into a friend at Publix and they say, "Great to see you! We need to get together after the holidays. Call me after things settle down!" P-H-O-N-Y.
There’s nothing phony, however, about the 21st edition of the SEC Championship Game. The SEC’s superior athletic prowess will be on full display when Georgia and Alabama meet for the first time in college football’s original and preeminent championship game. UGA aims for its third conference title under head coach Mark Richt but first since 2005. Alabama, meanwhile, will vie for its second conference championship under Saban. (Strange that Saban has won more national championships than conference titles during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.)
Many have anointed the Crimson Tide as the winner that will go on to face Notre Dame. Not SEC Banter.
Georgia is on the cusp of its first national championship in over 30 years and can usher in a new generation of Dawgs fans with a win on Saturday (followed, of course, by the automatic win over Notre Dame). To stem the Tide, Mark Richt could take a cue from LSU, which outplayed Bama for 58 minutes earlier this year. LSU outgained Alabama by 435 yards to 331, ran 33 more plays than the Tide, and its freshman running back piled up over 100 yards rushing against Bama’s vaunted defense.
Georgia is more than capable of a similar performance. The Bulldogs run a pro-style offense similar to LSU’s and it’s a given that Georgia’s talented defense will come to play. If they can follow the LSU blueprint — minus the last-minute collapse — Georgia can beat Alabama on Saturday.
The biggest unknown for UGA in this game, the "X-factor" if you will, is Dawgs’ signal-caller Aaron Murray. A prolific passer who has amassed several school and SEC records, Murray’s only knock is his subpar performances in big games. It doesn’t get any bigger than the SEC Championship against Alabama. If Murray protects the ball and plays within himself, the Bulldogs’ chances of emerging from the Georgia Dome as SEC (and national) champions improves dramatically.
SEC Banter predicts a Georgia upset over Alabama and its first national title since 1980. This game has all the makings of a classic, and I hope you enjoy it.
Meanwhile, I just ran into a friend of mine at Publix. A big ACC fan, he generously offered me a suite ticket to the ACC Championship between Florida State and Georgia Tech this Saturday in Charlotte. Transportation provided, hotel room, you name it.
I said it was great to see him and we definitely need to get together after the holidays.