We should have known. We truly should have known.
Just when we all thought the SEC’s streak of playing for national titles would end, Kansas State lost. Then Oregon lost. We will not get an all-SEC title game this year, but the winner of this year’s conference championship game gets the honor of facing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship. Alabama is fighting for a return trip to play for the title, while a Georgia win would allow them to play for their first title since 1980. Ironically enough, Georgia beat Notre Dame to win that title.
This is shaping up to be yet another SEC classic, as Alabama faces someone other than Florida for the hardware for the first time. We have broken down both of these teams on many occasions, but all that is left to do is see how they match up against each other. Before we do that, though, it’s trivia time!
SEC Trivia, Championship Edition (answer at end of column): The SEC played its first conference championship game in 1992. Excluding Texas A&M and Missouri, three teams have never participated in the SEC Championship. Name them.
#2 Alabama vs. #3 Georgia, 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: Alabama 49, Auburn 0; Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10
Program guide: Much has been made all year of Alabama’s defense, and they have gotten back to their stingy ways. That defense whitewashed Auburn in the Iron Bowl last week, allowing the Tigers just seven first downs and 163 yards of total offense. Auburn’s offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. Making matters worse, Auburn only crossed the 50 twice in the entire game. The back-to-back games of 163 yards allowed to opposing offenses against Western Carolina and Auburn helped to soothe the sting of the only two games in which the Tide allowed more than 282 yards. Those two games against LSU and Texas A&M saw Alabama give up 853 yards of offense. The Tide’s ten remaining opponents have accounted for just 195.1 yards per game.
Georgia’s defense has also answered the bell after being challenged before the Florida game. Bulldog safety Shawn Williams called out his fellow defenders to the media, saying, “We’ve gotta stop playing soft. We’re playing too soft defensively. That goes for D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties. I don’t know, we’re not playing with the same attitude we played with last year. I don’t know what it is.” Those comments after a 29-24 victory over Kentucky — interestingly enough, the first of a six-game winning streak to close the season — awakened a sleeping giant. Georgia allowed just 266 yards of offense in a 17-9 victory over Florida, and performed admirably against a powerful Ole Miss passing attack and two run-first option teams in Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech along the way.
The Tide hung 483 yards and 25 first downs on Auburn in last week’s victory. Even in somewhat reduced duty, the rushing tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon combined for 169 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. A.J. McCarron also got some vacation time last week, going 15-for-21 for 216 yards and four scores. As great as Alabama’s pass defense has been all year, Georgia has also been up to the task. The two units rank first and second, respectively, in the SEC. The Georgia pass defense has continually improved, allowing 222.4 yards per game in August and September, 159.7 yards per game in October and 126.3 yards per game in November. This might present an interesting task for AJ McCarron, who has thrown for 300 yards just twice in the 2012 campaign.
Aaron Murray got some equal time off last week against Georgia Tech, going 14-for-17 for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia managed just 49 plays on offense against Paul Johnson’s rush-heavy Yellow Jackets. The ‘Dogs have their own effective rushing game, as Todd Gurley ran for 97 yards on 12 carries last week, reaching the end zone twice. Keith Marshall struck twice, as well, going for 66 yards on seven carries. Gurley has shattered the 100-yard mark seven times this season, and an Alabama rush defense that allows just 77 yards per game may be an issue. Those two games against LSU and Texas A&M saw those teams rush for 139 and 165 yards, though, so Alabama can be had on the ground.
Alabama will need their defense to continue the same success they have enjoyed against teams not named LSU or Texas A&M to secure a victory in this contest. The Crimson Tide offense has been steady all year, with Yeldon and Lacy carrying the load on the ground and McCarron doing just enough through the air to provide a steady change of pace. It deserves mention that the only time McCarron attempted more than 30 passes was the Texas A&M game, in which he went 21-for-34 for 309 yards, with a touchdown and two costly interceptions. The Bulldogs feature the 69th-ranked rush defense in the FBS, and Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech combined for 608 rushing yards against them in the previous two weeks. A steady dose of Yeldon and Lacy may be just what the doctor ordered.
Georgia enjoys a 1,000-yard rusher in Gurley, but Aaron Murray’s resurgence has also helped key the Bulldogs’ streak. Though he went just 12-for-24 for 150 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the Florida victory, he has compiled a completion percentage of 64.3% or better in the four games since. Murray has thrown for 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions since that game against the Gators. The third-ranked Alabama pass defense awaits him in this one, and Murray’s efficiency and ability to limit mistakes must continue, as Gurley and the Georgia rushing attack will find tough sledding against Alabama’s front seven. The Tide are much more vulnerable in the defensive secondary, which may hold the key to a Georgia victory.
Will we see two of college football’s most storied teams battle it out on the gridiron for a national title, evoking memories of Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian? Will Georgia get the chance to again claim the title over Notre Dame, 30-plus years after their first victory? The one thing we know is that this game will be an absolute classic, just as we have come to expect from what many consider the best conference in college football.
SEC Trivia, Championship Edition: I asked earlier: The SEC played its first conference championship game in 1992. Excluding Texas A&M and Missouri, three teams have never participated in the SEC Championship. Name them.
Answer: Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have never participated in the SEC Championship Game.