Georgia and Alabama look nearly identical at first glance.

The No. 3 Bulldogs and No. 2 Crimson Tide have the two highest-rated quarterbacks in the nation in pass efficiency in Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron, respectively. Neither team tries to rely too heavily on the arm of their signal-caller, either, preferring to let the duos comprising their running games dominate the clock and wear opponents down.

They both boast stout defensive units, with NFL-ready talent at nearly every position. The coaching department has a similar splitting of hairs, with Georgia's Mark Richt and Alabama's Nick Saban sitting third and fourth in winning percentage among active Division-I coaches with 10 or more years of experience, as Richt's 75 percent (117-39) victory clip narrowly edges Saban's 73.3 percent (152-55-1). But when one looks deeper, it's in the area of utmost importance where the similarities end.

If Alabama has starred on the national stage under Saban's direction, Georgia has barely registered as a supporting actor — an extra is more like it.

The Crimson Tide will play for their third national title in four years if they win the Southeastern Conference Championship game on Saturday. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are attempting to end a decades-long drought dating back to their last national championship in 1980.

Richt was acutely attuned to the long shadow Alabama casts, not just in the SEC, but throughout the country. The last five seasons, he noted in the opening statement of his Tuesday press conference, Alabama has tallied 59 victories, most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

In the last four years, the Crimson Tide have won 47 times, and two more wins would tie them with the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 1994-97 for the NCAA record in a four-season span.

After recounting Alabama's sustained excellence, Richt expressed exactly what was on everyone's mind.

"They’re just at a time where they’re dominating college football, really," he said of the Crimson Tide. "So we have a lot of respect for them, obviously."

Wide receiver Rantavious Wooten said Alabama's accomplishments are impossible to ignore. He and his teammates must remind themselves — despite their foes' recent otherworldly dominance competing in college football's toughest conference — it's still another game. Alabama, however, has a "been-there, done-that" aura surrounding itself.

Wooten knows Georgia must be cognizant of that winning pedigree.

"We've got to stay level-headed, because those guys have been in the position before and they've won it," Wooten said. "We've got to be ready for that."

The Bulldogs were in the SEC Championship game last year, of course. Through one half of play, it appeared Georgia might pull off an upset of top-ranked LSU and win its first conference crown since 2005, carrying a 10-7 lead heading into the locker room. But the Tigers took off in the second half while the Bulldogs crumbled.

Forty-two unanswered points later, LSU had clinched a spot in the BCS Championship game against — who else — Alabama. Meanwhile, Georgia was left to sift through the rubble of the lopsided 42-10 defeat.

With a year to reflect and the chance to redeem themselves this Saturday, the Bulldogs feel they have pinpointed what went awry in their dismal second-half showing against the Tigers.

"I think we were more excited to be there [in the SEC Championship] than to actually go in there and handle business," wide receiver Rhett McGowan said. " ... I just think we were a little too satisfied just getting there. This year, [we know] we've got a little more work to do."

Saturday's stakes are evident. A win by either team will place them opposite of Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship on Jan. 7 in Miami.

McGowan said he doesn't think much about getting Georgia's program to where Alabama's now sits, on the precipice of yet another national title game appearance. The Bulldogs have to capture one national championship first, McGowan said.

Multiple titles would just be icing on the cake.

"Whether you're a freshman or a senior, for a lot of teams, this is your only chance at something like this, so you've got to treat it like that," he said. "You can't expect to be back here next year in the same spot. You can't take it for granted."

It could be hard for Todd Gurley to feel the way McGowan described. Gurley will be playing in the SEC title tilt in his first year as a collegian, after all.

The first true freshman Bulldog to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Herschel Walker isn't making more out of Saturday's contest than there needs to be, though.

The SEC Championship is "a big game" every year, he said, not exactly breaking news.

"There's no reason to blow it up any bigger than it is," Gurley said. "It's just two great teams going against each other and it's going to be a hard-fought football game."

To prevent emotional and physical burnout prior to kickoff, Christian Robinson said he stays loose by cracking jokes and keeping a smile on his face in pregame warmups. He was quick to note he takes the game just as seriously as anyone else once the game begins.

With a national title bid going to the winner of Saturday's game, Robinson admitted feeling the pressure, not a distressing signal in his estimation.

To the senior inside linebacker, "pressure" and "stress" are two vastly different things.

"Stress is when you're not prepared," he said. "Pressure is when you have an opportunity and know you can take advantage of it. If we were stressed out, that would be a bad thing. But we're feeling the pressure because we know what we can do and how big this can be."

While the Crimson Tide are not surprisingly taking top billing in Saturday's matchup, that didn't bother linebacker Amarlo Herrera. Let Alabama steal the pregame headlines, he said. The Bulldogs will "settle" for being the topic of discussion at the game's conclusion.

The sophomore linebacker all but guaranteed it.

"After this Saturday, we'll be talked about," he said. "Simple as that."

(1) comment


Gurley has the correct perspective. Our team is often one of the best in the country, is entertaining, provides a social focus and rallying point for a diverse student body and alumni, and sports are an important part of a university, but I'll take our academics over 'Bama's football titles every time.

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