Saturday December 1, 2012

ATLANTA -- The national championship could be decided with a dream matchup between two of college football’s most storied programs: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

Of course, Georgia might have something to say about that.

The third-ranked Bulldogs are eager to wake up some echoes of their own.

Coach Mark Richt’s team will take on No. 2 Alabama in a Southeastern Conference title game that essentially serves as a national semifinal. The winner of Saturday’s contest at the Georgia Dome will surely land a spot against top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS title game at Miami on Jan. 7.

While Alabama (11-1) is a seven-point favorite to remain on course for its third crown in four years, Georgia (11-1) wants to carve out its own legacy, something beyond the great teams of the early 1980s led by Herschel Walker.

"We respect and honor those guys that played ahead of us, but we really need to give the fans something else to talk about," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "If that’s all we have to talk about, we must not be doing anything special."

Georgia won its only Associated Press national title in 1980, Walker’s freshman year. The Bulldogs were in position to win another two years later, the running back’s final season between the hedges, but Penn State knocked them off in the Sugar Bowl.

In an interesting twist, Walker announced this week that he’ll soon be opening a restaurant in Athens after the first of the year.

By then, the Bulldogs hope they’ve cooked up another national title.

All those who’ve come along since Walker will be cheering on this team, including Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. He played at Georgia in the late ‘90s and planned to give the Bulldogs a pep talk by phone.

"We can’t let this one slide," Bailey said. "This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because I’m tired of people talking about Herschel Walker. That was 30-something years ago. There’s been a lot of things happen between now and then, but no championships. That’s why they still talk about him."

Indeed, even though Georgia finished No. 2 in the AP rankings in 2007, this is the best shot at finishing No. 1 since the Walker era. If the Bulldogs win the next two games, they’re the champions.

"We’re hungry," Robinson said. "We’ve got something to prove."

So does Alabama.

A year ago, the Crimson Tide didn’t even make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game -- LSU won the Western Division -- but Alabama got a do-over against the Tigers for the BCS title. Even with a resounding 21-0 victory, there are still those who think the Tide didn’t deserve a second chance after losing to LSU in the regular season.

If Alabama beats Georgia and Notre Dame, no one can say the Tide didn’t earn it, despite an upset loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

"There is a lot more pressure, but that is what we like," running back Eddie Lacy said. "You come to Alabama to be in situations like this and play in games like this."

The SEC finalists are remarkably similar on paper.

-- Georgia’s Aaron Murray is the nation’s top-rated passer, just ahead of Alabama’s AJ McCarron.

-- The Crimson Tide has a dynamic running back duo with Lacy (1,001 yards, 14 touchdowns) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (847 yards, 10 TDs). So does Georgia with a pair of freshmen, Todd Gurley (1,138 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Keith Marshall (720 yards, eight TDs.)

-- Each squad has lost a couple of key receivers to injuries.

-- Alabama leads the nation in points allowed (9.2 per game) and total defense (233.7 yards). Georgia has been just as stout since senior safety Shawn Williams called out his defensive teammates before a big game against Florida, accusing them on playing "soft." Over the last five weeks, the Bulldogs have surrendered just 43 points.

Big Ten Championship

INDIANAPOLIS -- Wisconsin and No. 14 Nebraska likely will play Saturday night’s Big Ten title game in front of at least a few empty seats.

A little more than 24 hours before kickoff, thousands of tickets remained unsold and local organizers and Big Ten officials were already saying they didn’t anticipate selling all of them.

"I think from the vantage point in the press box, you’re going to see empty seats," said John Dedman, a spokesman for Indiana Sports Corp., which helps the Big Ten put on the game. "But at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of people in those seats. There are 67,000 seats in there."

This has not been a good year for the Big Ten, which has four teams ranked in the Top 25.

No. 4 Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) isn’t playing for the title because it’s ineligible for postseason play. Had the Buckeyes made it, ticket sales likely would have been more brisk.

Penn State (8-4, 6-2) finished second in the Leaders Division but also is out of the mix because it cannot play in a bowl game.

So the third-place Badgers (7-5, 4-4) have a chance to become the first conference team to reach the Rose Bowl in three straight years since Michigan in the late 1970s.

Both Nebraska (10-2, 7-1) and Wisconsin are known for taking large contingents of fans on the road. But this time, neither school sold its entire 15,000-ticket allotment, and general public ticket sales fell behind last year’s pace, too, making plenty of seats available for walk-up sales Saturday.

"It’s noticeably behind last year," Dedman said of the pace. "Obviously, it’s been a unique year for the Big Ten. But it also means that those who are coming downtown tomorrow can walk right into Lucas Oil Stadium and see what we think is going to be a great game."

It’s an unusual situation in Indianapolis, a city that has embraced all forms of major sporting events ranging from the Final Four and Super Bowl to national championships in track and field, swimming and diving and gymnastics.

This is the second straight year the title game will be played in Indy. Last year, the game was nearly sold out, and the title game is scheduled to return to Indy in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Coach Bo Pelini said at a news conference Friday that he expects the retractable-roof dome stadium to be closer to capacity than most expect.

ACC Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says the key to the Seminoles winning their 13th ACC title and clinching an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl is shutting down Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.

The 13th-ranked Seminoles (10-2, 7-1 ACC) come in Saturday night as a two-touchdown favorite over unranked Georgia Tech, but Fisher knows defending the Yellow Jackets’ tricky offense can be a monumental task if you’re not properly prepared.

The Yellow Jackets (6-6, 5-3) averaged 40 points per game during ACC play and their running game ranks third-best in the nation, averaging 323.3 yards per game.

Fisher says his staff has devised a good game plan to stop it but points out it’s difficult to simulate the speed of Georgia Tech’s offense because it’s so unorthodox.