Often convoluted and controversial, the Bowl Championship Series standings suddenly are simple and straight-forward.
As ABC sportscaster Brent Musburger said late Saturday: “You don’t need a computer for this one. Notre Dame will play Alabama or Georgia for the national championship.”
Notre Dame remained No. 1, Alabama No. 2 and Georgia No. 3 in the next-to-last BCS standings of the season, released Sunday night. And no plausible scenario exists that would allow any team outside that trio to reach the top two when the final BCS standings are compiled and the national title matchup officially set next weekend.
Notre Dame (12-0) completed its regular season with a victory over USC Saturday and won’t play again until the BCS title game in Miami on Jan. 7. Georgia and Alabama (both 11-1) will meet Saturday in the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship game, with a berth opposite Notre Dame in the national-title game at stake.
The Georgia and Alabama coaching staffs were deep into preparation late Sunday for their de facto national semifinal.
“We’re just working like mad to try to get a game plan ready to go,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
He and Alabama coach Nick Saban took a late-afternoon break to spend a half-hour each on a conference call answering questions from the media.
Richt bristled a bit when a reporter asked if Georgia is untested because of a regular-season schedule that lacked games against Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M and how the Bulldogs might respond to facing the No. 2 team in the country Saturday.
“We’ve already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida,” Richt replied.
The Gators were ranked No. 2 when Georgia beat them 17-9 and now are No. 4, a scant .0029 points behind Georgia in the BCS standings.
“We can only play who is on our schedule,” Richt continued. “We’ll be well prepared, but (Alabama) will, too. That’s why you kick it off and play. … Then we’ll just see where it goes.”
Another reporter noted similarities between Georgia and Alabama, including efficient quarterbacks, effective tailback tandems and stellar 3-4 defenses. Richt agreed before adding, “One thing that they’ve done is they’ve been national champions and we’ve not, they’ve been SEC champions and we’ve not, during the time frame of these kids’ careers. That’s the biggest difference I see right now.”
Said Saban: “Philosophically, there’s a lot of similarities (between the teams) in how they try to win with balance and taking care of the ball and playing with a lot of physical toughness on both sides of the ball. … There’s not a whole lot of tricks and gimmicks with us or them.”
Georgia’s offense has averaged 40 points per game over the past month, while Alabama’s defense has allowed only 9.25 points per game this season.
“We feel like we’re going to (have to) be real patient offensively and understand we’re playing a defense that is the best in the country, the best in the league,” Richt said. “We’ve got to … bang away and look for opportunities to make plays.”
“I think this is an outstanding team,” Saban said of Georgia, “because of the balance created by their ability to run the ball effectively as well as having a good quarterback and good skill guys outside to make plays in the passing game.”
Georgia is ranked No. 3 in this week’s USA Today and Harris Interactive polls — two of the three components of the BCS formula — and No. 4 in the other, the computer polls. Alabama is No. 2 in the USA Today and Harris polls and No. 3 in the computers. Notre Dame is No. 1 in all three BCS components.
The Associated Press poll, which is not part of the BCS formula, also has Notre Dame No. 1, Alabama No. 2 and Georgia No. 3 this week.
– Tim Tucker, AJC
READ ALL ABOUT IT: THE AJC’S COMPLETE (AND CONTINUOUS) SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME COVERAGE