64F Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Alabama coach Nick Saban finds plenty to like about competing in a league where the champion has a near-automatic reservation to the BCS national title game.
That's the case again for Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game between the second-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia. The winner advances to meet No. 1 Notre Dame with a chance to keep the national championship in the SEC for a seventh straight year.
And the loser? Well, that team might be shut out of the BCS picture because No. 5 Florida is in line to grab that spot. Saban is less thrilled about that prospect - another side effect of playing in the SEC.
"For either one of these teams, it's not really a great scenario," Saban said on a conference call Sunday. "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, but it is what it is.
"I don't really know what me commenting about it is going to do to change it, but I don't feel good about it for our football team or their football team."
Then again, he wasn't complaining when the Tide (11-1, 7-1) landed in the BCS title game against LSU last season without winning the West.
The Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1) rebounded from a 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 6 to win the East for the second straight season.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he doesn't want his team getting caught up in the stakes and magnitude of the game.
"All you can do is get your staff and your team as prepared as possible to go play a game," Richt said. "That's what we're going to do. If you think about what the game means, this that and the other, it doesn't really help you win the game. The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That's what you've got to do.
"Physically, mentally, be ready to handle your business when the ball kicks off. That's my only focus. I don't worry about all that stuff."
Coincidentally, Georgia beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl for its only AP title to end the 1980 season.
Richt isn't drawing too much from that history.
"That's the first time anybody's brought that up to me," he said. "I can't worry about all that stuff. We're just working like mad trying to get a game plan ready to go this week. That's all I can say."
Georgia earned the trip down the road to Atlanta with a win over Florida to claim the tiebreaker. The Gators were ranked third at the time, but Richt can still draw from that win when asked how his team will handle a big game even if his memory is a touch off.
"We've already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida," he said.
The game will feature the nation's two most efficient passers, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron. Alabama comes in leading the nation in scoring and total defense.
Both teams are coming off blowout wins over in-state rivals.
The Tide produced its fourth shutout of the season with a 49-0 win over Auburn. Georgia dispatched Georgia Tech 42-10.
This is Alabama's eighth time in an SEC championship game but the first time the team has played someone other than the Gators.
The Tide is aiming for its second straight national title and third in four years. Saban still talks like a guy gunning for his first.
"Regardless of what you've accomplished in the past, this is the most important game we're going to play this entire year for our team," he said.
"I'm always looking forward to the next challenge. When I can't do that, I probably shouldn't do this anymore."
The Tide will be dealing with a depleted receiving corps this week as deep threat Kenny Bell suffered a broken leg against Auburn. Bell is averaging a team-high 25.4 yards per catch.
Saban said he's considering playing highly touted freshman receiver Chris Black, who had shoulder surgery in August, over the final two games.