Two years before college football’s four-team playoff begins, No. 3 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama get a taste with a Southeastern Conference championship game serving as its own national semifinal.
“There’s a lot of hype about the game, huh?” Georgia nose guard John Jenkins said Tuesday. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment. You’ve always got to think about the journey. It was a long journey here. A lot of people took us out when we lost to South Carolina and now we’re in one of the biggest shows in America right now, close to the Super Bowl.”
Yes, Georgia’s fifth trip to the SEC title game under Mark Richt is different than his previous four.
The game transcends the sports pages and the college football world because waiting for the winner in the BCS title game is iconic Notre Dame, which is unbeaten and will play for its first national title since 1988.
“I guess technically we don’t know for certain, but everybody’s pretty much saying that the winner is going to play for the national championship, so that certainly adds something to it,” Richt said. “The Southeastern Conference championship to me stands alone as something that’s really, really special. Just look at our game, the ticket sales, and the people trying to get tickets. I was listening to the radio on the way in and somebody said that the costs of these tickets rival any BCS national championship game. There’s something about our league that’s special.”
The league is the home to the last six BCS national champions.
“For all intents and purposes, every time we have been in it, since I’ve been here, this is a playoff game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “The two years we played Florida, we were No. 1 and No. 2. … Now you have 2 and 3 playing, which is a great competitive venue. They have certainly earned the right to be there, with their accomplishments and their full body of work. Our team has done the same thing, so it’s the kind of game that players should love to play in, and we’re looking forward to it.”
So is Jenkins.
“I remember when I went to Florida I held the crystal ball in Coach (Will) Muschamp’s office,” Jenkins said of a recruiting visit. “I’m in Georgia right now and I have an opportunity to hold the crystal ball in Georgia’s office or being able to win an SEC championship. For us to be in this position and have the opportunity to play for these type of awards is a blessing.”
“This is why I came to Georgia to play in games like this,” Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings said. “Playing for the conference championship for a chance to go play for the (national championship). It’s definitely the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life, really.”