SEC Championship 2012: Georgia Has More Talent, but More Uncertainty
The showdown is set.
On Saturday at 4 p.m., No. 2 Alabama will face off against No. 3 Georgia. The winner will inevitably take the other half of the seat for the Discover BCS National Championship, which has already been graced with the long-awaited arrival of Notre Dame.
Some college football fans, red and black-clad ones included, might still be second guessing the idea the Bulldogs have a shot at a national championship. That's hard to imagine, considering on Oct. 6, Georgia was demolished on the road 35-7 by nemesis Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Media pundits are already hinting their confidence in Alabama, as most projections see the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish (two of the best nicknames in sports) will face off for the Crystal Ball.
Mark Schlabach of ESPN might have put himself under lights by picking Georgia. He's certainly in the minority, as the rhetoric across the country isn't giving the Dawgs much of a chance.
There is at least one other public figure who has endorsed Team Schlabach, and he happens to be a Georgia player. Yesterday in an interview on ESPN radio, senior safety Bacarri Rambo, who tied UGA legend Jake Scott with 16 career interceptions in Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, said Georgia has more talent than Nick Saban's bunch.
The inherent reaction to that comment probably involves a chuckle and a "psh," but Rambo might have a point.
In fact, if you compare Georgia and Alabama on paper, their respective players appear to be carbon copies.
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Georgia's junior quarterback, Aaron Murray, and Alabama's junior signal caller, A.J. McCarron, are the two highest-rated passers, respectively, in the FBS. Both teams feature stellar freshman tailbacks in Todd Gurley (176 carries, 1,138 yards, 6.5 ypc, 14 touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (129 carries, 847 yards, 6.6 ypc, 10 touchdowns).
Injuries have hit Alabama and Georgia at receiver, as the Tide's starter Kenny Bell went down most recently with a broken leg. Georgia lost its No. 2 and No. 3 receivers as both Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett went down with ACL tears during the season. Youngsters Amari Cooper and Malcolm Mitchell bring plenty of explosiveness to the table to compensate.
And both teams have loads of talent on defense. Georgia's defensive personnel, talent-wise, might be better than Alabama's too. Georgia has first-round draft pick material in defensive tackle John Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree, safeties Shawn Williams and Rambo, and of course All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones (10.5 sacks), who might be the best defensive player in the country.
Bama stand outs include lockdown corner Dee Milliner, experienced safety Robert Lester, and linebackers C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson.
Milliner will definitely be the best corner on the field Saturday. Jones will definitely be the best linebacker. Other than, an argument of who's better than who at each position could go in more directions than Temple's conference bus routes for 2013.
Alabama's weakness is a lackluster pass rush, while Georgia's is undoubtedly special teams—especially at kicker. Georgia's offensive line was also considered an area of concern at the start of the year, but it played very well this year and won't be facing a force close to what South Carolina featured with Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.
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So, where's that blatant weakness that makes this an easy game to pick?
It might be between the ears of Georgia's players, as well as its head coach.
Going back to Rambo's comments, the opposite side of the spectrum was made apparent earlier today when it was confirmed that Aaron Murray, who has always been a great interview for writers, won't make himself available to the media this week.
Murray's mind has been through whirlwinds this year, no doubt. Less than 24 hours after seeing his house had been egged following Georgia's loss to South Carolina, Murray found out his father had thyroid cancer.
His poor performance in the contest echoed a trend of Murray struggling in big games. Even this year, when he finally won the big one against Florida, it wasn't much of his doing. Murray tossed three interceptions to Gator defenders, but did complete a huge pass in the fourth quarter that was taken by Mitchell to the end zone to seal the win.
In 2011, Murray tweeted, "Next stop! Georgia Dome! It's time!!! I'll hit y'all up after we whoop some a**." That tweet came hours before Georgia was thumped 35-21 by Boise State in the first game of the year. Murray made crucial mistakes in games last year against LSU and Michigan State as well.
While he's been the most efficient passer in college football, there's no doubt his mind must be racing right now. That's because Murray has yet to showcase greatness on the big stage, and he's now heading into arguably the biggest Georgia football game since 1982—well before he was born.
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Funny, to find the above, considering the hard-working Murray already has a degree in psychology and is pursuing his masters in a similar field.
Whether taking the Rambo or Murray route, the rest of the Georgia players and coaches probably are feeling the same degree of uncertainty and superstition when it comes to preparing for this gigantic contest.
Afterall, Georgia head coach Mark Richt has had some pretty nasty stains on his otherwise clean resume' as well.
Despite having elite talent, Georgia teams under Richt have often not only lost, but been demolished in big moments. Aside from the game against Spurrier this year—Georgia's only blemish—Richt's No. 3 ranked Bulldogs were beat by Alabama 41-30 thanks to a 31-0 nothing run by Saban's team to start the game in 2008. Some fans argued the Dawgs seemed unfocused among the "blackout" festivities, which included black jerseys. Alabama assistant coach Scott Cochran retorted the hype by telling his players Georgia was wearing black to its own funeral.
Later that year, Georgia had a chance to save the season in Jacksonville, but lost 49-10 to Florida, even with the great Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green on the field.
And the Dawgs had a chance to make a huge statement in last year's SEC title game, leading 10-0 just before the half thanks to an amazing defensive performance. That performance did not endure, as the Dawgs were stymied the rest of the way in a 42-10 loss to LSU. Ironic, considering Richt's teams have always been accompanied with the unofficial slogan, "finish the drill."
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This all contrasts heavily against the aura of Saban and Alabama. While the Crimson Tide may, in fact, not have as many elite players, they've been there and done that—with "there" being the national championship and "that" being quietly taking care of business.
Essentially, Alabama has already earned a Masters in the psychology of the game, while the Dawgs might still be trying to figure out the best way to prepare for the final.
A.J. McCarron and the Crimson Tide were the more modest team last year, as they defeated LSU for the BCS title.
We've never seen a meltdown from a Saban team. We have seen it from Georgia in the past.
While Georgia has been mightily impressive in its past four wins, it has not faced an elite team since Florida. Georgia did not play its best game against the Gators, and some say Florida lost it more than Georgia won it.
Does Georgia have the talent and experience to compete with Alabama? The answer is definitely a yes.
But, the most important factor in Saturday's matchup is how Georgia proves to the entire country it has taken the next step in building a football team that can not only believe in greatness, but be great.
After all, Saban's team has that proof in hardware.
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