It's hard to believe there will be a football game played in Atlanta this Saturday.
Yes, some little thing called the Southeastern Conference Championship game will take place in the Georgia Dome, with kickoff set for 4 p.m. But to listen to various talking heads — my apologies, let me be a bit more respectful and call them "experts" — it's not a game at all. Instead, it's a mere formality. It's just a steppingstone on the way to another national championship game appearance for Alabama. Thanks for playing, Georgia. Take your SEC runners-up trophy and enjoy your time in Orlando, Fla., for the Capital One Bowl.
All that's needed now is for Pat Dye to appear and reiterate that Georgia's not "man enough to beat Alabama," as the former Auburn coach once said on the eve of a Bulldogs-Crimson Tide matchup 10 years ago. (Assuming Dye isn't too caught up speculating who Auburn's next coach will be after the Tigers gave Gene Chizik the axe on Sunday, of course. Dye is never shy about discussing the school he coached for 12 years.)
To wit, the Bulldogs won that 2002 tussle with the Crimson Tide, 27-25, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
But that was a long time ago, or as Crimson Tide fans refer to it, "The Dark Ages." Believe it or not, there was a time the Crimson Tide didn't stand as a dominant force, in the gap between their national championship-winning seasons in 1992 and 2009, respectively. During that span, Alabama was led by Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price (hired but never coached a game) and Mike Shula, hardly the type of coaches people build statues outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium for. That loss to the Bulldogs 10 years ago came when Franchione was coach, the man best known for pulling the "reverse Bear Bryant" by fleeing Alabama for Texas A&M at the end of the 2002 campaign.
Why recall any of this?
Because history, whether recent or distant, is meaningless. No doubt, people will reference the last time these two teams squared off. In 2008, the Crimson Tide entered Athens and left destruction in their wake, decimating the No. 3 Bulldogs 41-30 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score made it out to be. You know the only similarities between that game and the one to be played Saturday?
Both feature the same head coaches (Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Mark Richt) and both take place in Georgia.
There are a few redshirts from each side remaining, but the main protagonists, such as Georgia's Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno are long gone. So are Alabama's John Parker Wilson and Julio Jones and Terrence Cody. We could keep reciting names that dotted the two team's rosters four years ago, but it doesn't change the fact none will take the field this Saturday.
Not that it will stop people from bringing the 2008 result up.
The same goes for people who will cite Georgia's record in big games of recent vintage. Or the softness of this season's schedule. No statistic will be repeated more during the coming week than Aaron Murray's record against ranked opponents, which stands at a hideous 3-9.
There is no way to downplay the quarterback's less-than-stellar mark. It's not as if his counterpart this Saturday, A.J. McCarron, has lit the world on fire in big games, though. Anchored by a formidable defense and an explosive running game, McCarron has rarely had to play any role other than glorious game manager in his career. When he has been called upon to do more, well, the results have been mixed.
In the two biggest games of Alabama's season, he has been outplayed by his rival signal-caller. The much-maligned Zach Mettenberger took center stage and had a career-best game against the Crimson Tide, throwing for 298 yards on 24-for-35 passing. Meanwhile, McCarron struggled. He hit only 10 of his 22 attempts versus the Tigers until the Crimson Tide's final drive, which saw him go 4-for-5 for 72 yards and toss the game-clinching, go-ahead touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon for a 21-17 road victory.
One week later, McCarron once again took the backseat in the quarterback department. Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' sensational freshman quarterback, put on a show, totaling 345 total yards (253 passing, 92 rushing) and two touchdowns. McCarron mustered only one touchdown against two interceptions — the latter of the two picks came on the Crimson Tide's final possession, at the Aggies' 2-yard line, no less — to see his team fall 29-24 and snap Alabama's 13-game win streak in the process.
Those two contests provided the blueprint to beating the Crimson Tide: make McCarron win the game. The two times he's been tasked to do so in 2012, he has gone 1-1. (And he would sport an 0-2 record if LSU hadn't inexplicably abandoned the man-to-man defense it had employed the entire game until Alabama's game-winning drive. But I digress.)
More importantly for Georgia, the LSU-Texas A&M tandem made Alabama look human. The Crimson Tide aren't the nigh-invincible unit many pundits made them out to be. The Bulldogs can replicate many things both the Tigers and Aggies did to slow down the Crimson Tide: a talented defense that can stuff the run and force McCarron to throw, and balance on offense that can prevent the Crimson Tide from keying on a single aspect of the Bulldogs' attack.
So what happens if the "experts" are wrong? What to do if the Crimson Tide's coronation is botched thanks to the Bulldogs?
Simple. The "experts" will have to find a new team to tout, with the most likey successors being the Bulldogs. If Georgia defeats Alabama, the team who would be kings, the Bulldogs should rightly ascend to the throne as the apple of every pundit's eye.
It's not an outcome too far-fetched to believe.
— Ryan Black is a senior from Elberton majoring in newspapers and the lead football writer for The Red & Black