ATHENS — The state championship won, Georgia’s football team enthusiastically turned its attention to what’s ahead: the SEC Championship game against Alabama and, for the winner of that game, a shot at the national title.
“We’re fixing to go out there next week and play the game of our life,” said Georgia senior safety Bacarri Rambo, referring to next Saturday’s SEC title game in the Georgia Dome. “Because that is going to determine who makes it to the national championship, which was our goal for the season.”
“Definitely, that’s what the goal was at the beginning of the season. We had the road-to-Miami slogan and everything,” said freshman tailback Keith Marshall, referring to the site of the BCS title game Jan. 7. “It’s good that we can almost taste it, but we’ve got to stay focused and worry about the SEC Championship game.”
Ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in last week’s BCS standings, Alabama and Georgia stayed on their collision course for Atlanta by defeating their arch-rivals by a combined margin of 91-10 on Saturday. Alabama’s 49-0 rout of Auburn clinched the SEC Western Division title and a berth in the conference title game. Georgia had secured the SEC Eastern Division crown two weeks earlier, but its 42-10 rout of Georgia Tech kept its momentum strong and its national-title hopes alive.
The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Dome, both bringing 11-1 (7-1 SEC) records. Oddsmakers last week projected Alabama as an early 7-point favorite. All of the BCS analysts agree: The winner goes to Miami.
Alabama has won two of the past three national championships, including last season’s. Georgia last won a national championship 32 years ago.
“We’re very confident. We play this game just like they do,” Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “We put on our pads and shoes and everything just like they do. But definitely (there’s) respect. They’re a good program, and we respect them. I guess they respect us.”
They do, according to Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Georgia’s got a really good team. They’re playing as well as anybody in the country right now,” he said on CBS immediately after the win over Auburn. “We’ve just got to keep focusing on the things that we need to do to play winning football.”
The Bulldogs put talk and thought of the SEC and BCS aside for a week of focus on the Tech game. Now they can talk and think about the SEC title game without denying what’s at stake: a BCS title game berth.
“We know this one game can make so much happen for us,” wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said.
“The SEC Championship game (has) got to be our main focus; then we’ll worry about after that,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “But I know guys are excited about what could possibly happen.”
“This is the situation we wanted to be in,” tight end Jay Rome said. “And now we’re here.”
Georgia will be making its second consecutive trip to the SEC title game. The Bulldogs lost 42-10 to LSU there last season despite leading 10-0 after the first quarter. LSU then went on to lose to SEC West runnerup Alabama in the national title game.
“Last year was a little bit different for us,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. “I think we were a little bit happy just to be (in the SEC title game). And this year we’re coming, and we’re going to give it our all.”
“We’re ready,” Mitchell said. “I think we’ve got a high level of confidence to play in the game.”
Of Alabama, Robinson said: “They’re always well coached. They’ve always got some of the best players in the country.” And of Georgia, he said: “We have the same.”
The game is on.
– Tim Tucker, AJC