From the moment it became unofficially official that the winner of the SEC championship game would earn a spot in the BCS title game, most individuals without a definitive lean toward the Red & Black had already penciled in Alabama as the team opposite Notre Dame in South Beach.
Tuscaloosans, you may unofficially officially break out the Sharpies.
Armed with a punishing running game for which the Georgia defense simply had no answer, the No. 2 Tide rolled over, around and through the No. 3 Bulldogs in claiming their second SEC championship under Nick Saban. In the 32-28 win, the Tide set an SEC title-game record with 350 yards rushing, although, in an ironic twist, it was a breathtaking 45-yard AJ McCarron-to-Amari Cooper connection with just over three minutes left that proved to be the knockout punch for the defending national champions.
With the win — the closest margin of victory in the SEC title game since 1997 — the Tide sets itself up for an unprecedented third BcS title in four years. And set the nation up for a BCS title game for the ages, a North vs. South showdown with the Fighting Irish carrying the potential to shatter records for both ratings on game day and vitriol spewed in the weeks leading up to the first week of January.
The Jan. 7 matchup for all the crystal will mark the first game between the two storied programs since 1987.
Alabama’s destination is now known; the late-game road the Tide took to get there? Much to the detriment of the UGA coaching staff and the angst of the fan base, it will be discussed for months, if not years, to come.
While the player of the game was undoubtedly and literally Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide’s win… and while the play of the game came off the right arm of a battle-tested veteran into the hands of a fresh-faced freshman… all the while UGA fans will be lamenting what could’ve been courtesy of late-game clock management that only a Kiffin could love.
Taking over at their own 15-yard line with 1:08 left down by four and with no timeouts, the Bulldogs drove down to the Tide eight-yard line, the last 26 coming on an Aaron Murray-to-Arthur Lynch completion with under 20 seconds left. With the clock stopped for the chains to move for the first down, most expected UGA to hustle to the line, spike the ball with 10-15 seconds left and give themselves at least two, probably three shots at the end zone.
Instead, and inexplicably, Georgia ran a play. On a pass that was supposed to be a fade-type route into the end zone, it was instead tipped at the line and dropped into the arms of Chris Conley, who dropped to the turf before reaching the sidelines to stop the clock. With no timeouts remaining, all UGA could do was watch the clock expire on their hopes of a first national championship in more than three decades.
The play in and of itself certainly didn’t cost the Bulldogs the game; their run defense shoulders most of that load. It did, though, arm Mark Richt‘s detractors with additional ammunition.
However, the end of the game shouldn’t take away the effort both teams spilled on the Georgia Dome turf. And the history the Alabama Crimson Tide is on the verge of making — becoming the first team to win three titles in four years in the BCS era.
Their opponent will also be looking to stake their claim to some of their own history, with Notre Dame out to break a tie for most-ever Associated Press titles. The team with which they’re tied at eight? Alabama.
Roll Tide Roll. Play Like A Champion Today.
A title game for the ages indeed.