Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs aren’t just up against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in their bid to win an SEC Championship and a place in the BCS title game.
Outside the Peach State, UGA is widely, if unfairly, viewed as some sort of interloper that really ought not to be in the national championship discussion at this stage of the season.
That’s especially true with the national sports media. ESPN wants a ratings-powerhouse Notre Dame-Alabama matchup in the BCS national championship game so badly that it can barely contain itself.
The self-touted Worldwide Leader in Sports is flat-out in love with the Fighting Irish this season, even above and beyond Brent Musburger’s obvious man-crush on Manti Te’o. And the idea of matching two of college football’s major ratings generators in the game for the crystal football has them practically drooling.
It was pretty obvious Saturday night on “SportsCenter” that the hosts had to keep catching themselves from saying that Notre Dame’s win over USC had guaranteed it a spot against Alabama in the BCS game. Almost grudgingly, they noted that the winner of the SEC Championship Game — and therefore the team getting a shot at the Irish in Miami — could be Georgia.
But their preference for the Crimson Tide was pretty clear — never more so than in a brief film montage touting the BCS game that consisted entirely of Notre Dame and Alabama footage!
The sports network isn’t alone in its obsession with wanting to see Notre Dame and Bama paired up in the BCS game. Georgia is continually downplayed in national sports media coverage as somehow not really being deserving of a chance to go to Miami. The Dogs tend to choke in big games, they note — and while that’s been true, for the most part, it’s worth pointing out that the most recent such big game in which Georgia played resulted in a Dogs victory. Over the sexy Gators, who were the No. 2 team in the country at the time.
The nattering nabobs on ESPN also keep trotting out that “soft schedule” criticism, completely ignoring the fact that the Alabama and Georgia schedules this season were pretty comparable. Thanks to the way the revamped conference schedule worked out, Georgia avoided the three toughest teams in the SEC West and Bama avoided the three toughest teams in the SEC East. Each lost a game to a team in its division. And each played three cupcakes and one BCS conference team in its nonconference schedule.
Still, if the Dogs win in the Georgia Dome, they get the trip to Miami whether ESPN likes it or not.
Overall, though, it’s a bizarre situation Georgia finds itself in. If they beat Bama, they play for the national championship. If they don’t, they probably won’t even be in a BCS bowl, as the Sugar is likely to give its SEC spot to the “sexy” Florida Gators (to use the recent Will Muschamp meme that is on the verge of moving from embarrassing to just plain creepy).
While a Capitol One Bowl berth, likely against Michigan, is considered the most likely destination for Georgia if it loses to Alabama, the Dogs could wind up relegated to a return trip to the Dome in the Chick-fil-A game.
No, it doesn’t seem fair for the loser of the SEC title game to fall that far, whether it’s Georgia or Alabama, and it’s an issue the conference should take up.
As Saban said Sunday night, “For either one of these teams it’s not really a great scenario. You play your way into the championship game, which means you’re the best team in your division; they’re the best team in their division. They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season. It doesn’t seem quite right.”
So the Bulldogs might not just be playing for an SEC title and a chance to meet the Irish in the national championship game, or even for the national respect that so often has seemed just out of their grasp.
They could be playing to stay out of a mid-level bowl game for which they’d be drastically overqualified.
It’s been 30 years since the old “control their own destiny” line has meant this much for UGA.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg