TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In advance of Saturday's SEC Championship Game played between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, let's look at five key storylines for the Crimson Tide.
1. A return to the Georgia Dome with everything on the line: It's hard to believe it's been three years since Alabama was last in the Georgia Dome competing for the SEC title. It went well in 2009, and the hope around Tuscaloosa is history repeats itself. "It's a real opportunity, I think, for our players," UA coach Nick Saban said on Monday. "The SEC championship game is a great competitive venue." How Alabama handles the environment will be important. The Tide have played in big games like this before, but not one that so directly affects the rest of the season. Win and they're off to Miami for the BCS National Championship Game. Lose and kiss any BCS bowl goodbye.
2. Getting to Murray: Give Aaron Murray time to pass and he'll pick you apart. "If we let him sit back in the pocket, he can hurt you," UA linebacker Nico Johnson explained. "It has shown all year." The senior has struggled in big games (see Florida and South Carolina this year, LSU in 2011) but his career numbers are undeniable. He's never thrown for fewer than 3,000 yards and has averaged more than 30 touchdowns a season. Getting in his face and disrupting his timing will be a monumental task for Alabama's front seven, something it has struggled to do consistently this season.
3. Which running back tandem is best? It's hard to say Todd Gurley's and Keith Marshall's names without blending them into the now-popular "Gurshall" monicker. The two freshmen running backs have been outstanding for the Bulldogs. But will they outdo a top freshman in his own right in T.J. Yeldon? And what about the duo of Yeldon and Eddie Lacy? Will they produce more with the help of their offensive line than Gurshall and the Bulldogs can? While the two quarterbacks will get their fair share of attention, this game might come down to the men tasked with carrying the ball between the tackles.
4. Protecting McCarron: Georgia has arguably the best defensive player in the country in linebacker Jarvis Jones, according to Saban. Keeping him out of the backfield and away from AJ McCarron will be key to Alabama's success on offense. But it's not only Jones. Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Co. will have to wrestle down two 350-pound plus linemen in John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. LSU was a good test for the Alabama offensive line -- one you'd have to say they passed -- but Georgia will present its own challenges, blending power up the middle with speed on the outside.
5. A blackout of a different kind: No, we're not referring to the Georgia trouncing in 2008. This is in reference to Alabama freshman receiver Chris Black. The speedy wideout was supposed to miss the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason camp. But given the multiple injuries at the position -- DeAndrew White's knee and Kenny Bell's leg -- it appears the opportunity for Black's return is present. Black was a top-10 wide receiver in the 2012 signing class and was poised to make an impact this year before going down with a bum shoulder. His return would bring an instant injection of speed into the lineup.