By Tim Letcher
SEC Digital Network
College football's proposed playoff system doesn't take effect until at least 2014, but Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game is still considered, by nearly everyone, to be a national semifinal.
However, this is not a “Final Four”, like that proposed for college football. There are only three teams in play at this point. One team, Notre Dame, has unofficially punched its ticket for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship Game on January 7 in Miami. The opponent for the Irish will, more than likely, come from Saturday's SEC title game.
That's because Alabama, which is currently second in the BCS standings, faces Georgia, the third place team in those same standings, in Atlanta on Saturday for an SEC Championship. The winner of the battle of one-loss teams will almost assuredly advance to Sun Life Stadium, with a chance to bring the SEC its seventh consecutive BCS national championship.
That’s what SEC teams are now expected to do – compete for national championships. As if winning the championship of the most prestigious conference in the country wasn’t big enough, there is now another big game annually waiting for the team that claims the SEC crown. As soon as the champion is crowned, there will be little time for celebration, as that team will have to start fielding questions about, and thinking about, Notre Dame.
Alabama won the BCS National Championship last year, despite finishing second in the SEC Western Division. The Crimson Tide will be trying to return to the BCS Championship Game for the second straight year, and the third time in four years. On the other hand, Georgia has not won a national title since Herschel Walker and Vince Dooley brought the big trophy to Athens in 1980. (Ironically, Georgia beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim that title).
The winner of the SEC Championship Game has advanced to the BCS National Championship Game in each of the past six seasons.
In the 2006 SEC Championship Game, Percy Harvin led the Florida Gators to a 38-28 win over Arkansas, and to a bid in the first stand-alone BCS National Championship Game, where they would meet the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. After watching Ohio State’s Ted Ginn, Jr. return the opening kick 93 yards for a touchdown, Urban Meyer’s Gators dominated the game, winning 41-14.
In 2007, it was LSU, getting an MVP performance in the SEC title game from backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, beating Tennessee 21-14 in Atlanta. That win sent the Tigers to the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans. The victim, er, opponent was once again top-ranked Ohio State. Again, the Buckeyes got a big play early, a 65-yard touchdown run by Chris “Beanie” Wells, to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead. Ohio State actually led 10-0 before LSU rolled off 31 consecutive points, blowing open the game and winning 38-24.
The 2008 SEC Championship Game was won by the Florida Gators, who beat Alabama 31-20 behind a quarterback you may have heard of, Tim Tebow. That win earned the Gators a spot in the BCS Championship Game, where they would meet top-ranked Oklahoma. Florida would score the game’s last 10 points, winning 24-14 to make it three in a row for the SEC, and two out of three for Florida.
Alabama won the 2009 SEC Championship Game behind solid play from quarterback Greg McElory, and its always-stout defense. The Crimson Tide beat Florida 32-13 to earn a berth in the BCS Championship, where they would meet top-ranked Texas in Pasadena, Calif. Texas jumped in front on a pair of field goals, but No. 1 Alabama then scored 24 straight, led by running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, to open a lead they would never give up as the Tide won 37-21.
In 2010, it was Cam Newton leading the Auburn Tigers past South Carolina, 56-17 for the SEC Championship. Newton, Nick Fairley and the Tigers would face Oregon for the BCS National Championship in Glendale, Ariz. In a nip-and-tuck game, where neither team led by more than eight points, top-ranked Auburn got a Wes Byrum field goal as time expired, giving the Tigers a 22-19 win and a fifth straight title for the SEC.
In 2011, LSU rolled past Georgia, 42-10 and into the BCS title game. However, the Tigers would experience something new for any team. They would have to face a team from their own conference in the BCS Championship Game. And in the case of LSU, it was a team from their own division, Alabama. The same team that LSU had beaten 9-6 earlier in the season.
The rematch went the way of the Tide, as Alabama blanked the Tigers 21-0 at the Superdome in New Orleans. The Crimson Tide got five field goals from Jeremy Shelley before Trent Richardson scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide the final margin. It was a game dominated by Alabama’s defense, which allowed LSU to cross the 50-yard line only once in the game. LSU was held to 92 yards of total offense.
This game marked the first time in the last six years that the SEC Championship Game winner did not win the national championship. However, in a strange twist of fate, the SEC still came out a winner in the big game.
Without a doubt, the winner of Saturday’s Alabama-Georgia game will advance to Miami to face Notre Dame. And, as history has shown, that team will have a very good chance of becoming the SEC’s latest national champion.