ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia has gone 30 years since playing a game of this magnitude. Alabama played in a game of this magnitude 11 months ago.
But the two programs will meet in Saturday’s SEC championship game with an equal shot at playing for something even bigger than a conference title -- a shot at a BCS championship. Defending champ and second-ranked Alabama (11-1) enters as the favorite, while No. 3 Georgia (11-1) is playing in this game for the second time in as many years.
The Bulldogs will need a much more consistent effort on Saturday if they are to improve upon last season’s 42-10 defeat against then-No. 1 LSU once they had advanced to this point.
Let’s take a look at five key storylines as the Bulldogs’ second chance in Atlanta approaches:
1. BCS implications
The stakes of this game are hardly a secret. The winner of this game plays undefeated Notre Dame (12-0) for the BCS championship. The loser won’t even play in a BCS bowl game, most likely. Alabama won it all last season and has played in more high-stakes games in recent seasons than Georgia. The Bulldogs will have to play with composure to have a chance on Saturday, because Alabama is unlikely to make many glaring errors.
2. Big-game Murray
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has not spoken with the media this week, which prevented reporters from reminding him of his history against ranked opponents. Not that he needed it. This is a regular subject on the week of big games for the Bulldogs’ third-year starter, who tossed one touchdown against four interceptions in SEC East showdowns against Florida and South Carolina this season. Murray has been outstanding since a poor first half against Florida, however, and he will need to keep that up on Saturday, as Alabama’s secondary is the most obvious area on the Crimson Tide’s defense that seems vulnerable to attack.
3. Offensive line faces challenge
Of course it will help Murray’s cause if Georgia’s offensive line holds up against Alabama’s tough defensive front. That means both providing some creases for tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to exploit and keeping the Tide’s pass rushers off Murray’s back so he can relax and throw. Georgia’s line struggled against a South Carolina front that featured an elite rusher in Jadeveon Clowney, but did a better job against a Florida line that was a bit more similar to Alabama’s. Overall, Georgia’s line has probably exceeded modest expectations entering the season, but it remains the biggest question mark as it prepares to face one of its most challenging tests of the fall.
4. Pressure off the edge
After spending the last two weeks dodging cut blocks from option offenses, Georgia’s outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Jordan Jenkins should have chances to harass an opposing quarterback off the edge again. If they can get to Alabama’s AJ McCarron -- and maybe even force some mistakes like they have at key points against Missouri, Tennessee and Florida, in particular -- it will be interesting to see how he responds. Alabama has a strong offensive line, but it has not always fared great against top-notch pass rushers and Jones certainly fits that billing.
5. Who’s gonna give?
This is the highest-scoring team in Georgia history as the Bulldogs set a new program high with their 456th point of the season last week. Alabama is the national leader in scoring defense (9.25 ppg). Likewise, Georgia allowed just 8.6 points per game in the last five, but Alabama is scoring one more point per game on average than Georgia (39 to 38). Clearly Saturday’s result will contradict some of those trends.