Since its inception, SEC Championship Games have delivered national title teams and stellar individual performances. What it hasn’t provided in abundance is competitive games.
But all three were present and accounted for in 2012, when Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28.
That classic encounter comes to mind for two reasons. Foremost is Saturday’s Alabama-Georgia game in Athens with plenty of story lines. Undefeated Georgia is ranked eighth and looking like the SEC East favorite. One-loss Alabama is No. 13 and hearing talk that the sun is setting on the Nick Saban dynasty that has produced three national titles since 2009.
Because of the Southeastern Conference scheduling formula, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are meeting for the first time in the regular season since 2008.
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Crazy as it seems, programs that rank in college football’s top 15 for all-time victories, exist in the same conference, located in adjoining states and separated by 275 miles have met only 14 times in the regular season in the previous 43 years.
The 2012 encounter showed what college football was missing.
The recent Monday Night Football game triggered another memory of the game. From the Lambeau Field press box on Monday, I marveled at watching several players perform who made an impact that afternoon in Atlanta and that night in Green Bay.
Packers running back Eddie Lacy rolled up 87 rushing and receiving yards. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was all over the field making tackles.
In 2012, Lacy rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns and Clinton-Dix came up with a big interception for Alabama.
Chiefs rookie wide receiver Chris Conley notched his first NFL reception against the Packers. As a Georgia sophomore, he caught a pair of passes against Alabama and the ball was in his hands, 5 yards from go-ahead score, when the game ended.
Alabama’s leading receiver that day was Amari Cooper, Georgia’s top rusher was Todd Gurley. Bama’s T.J. Yeldon joined Lacy in having a big rushing day. Bulldogs linebacker Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
“The talent on the field that day was incredible,” Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray said.
The talent included Murray, the Chiefs’ third-string quarterback, who passed for 265 yards in what he called the most intense college game of his career.
Things were going Georgia’s way most of the day and the Bulldogs led 21-10 in the third quarter. Alabama, gunning for a second straight national championship, was on its heels.
“We thought we were in good shape,” Murray said. “Third quarter, we’re up, it’s our game.”
Then it wasn’t. Yeldon, Lacy and Cooper each scored touchdowns over the game’s final 20 minutes.
With a final possession, Murray drove the Bulldogs from their 15 to the Tide 8. On the final snap, Murray’s pass to the pylon was deflected by Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. It came up short of the end zone. Conley was there and should have let it drop to kill the clock but time expired.
“It’s a moment you learn from,” Conley said.
The Crimson Tide went on to crush Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, but the real national title game played out in the Georgia Dome a month earlier.
Georgia went on to beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and finished as the nation’s highest-ranked two-loss team, fourth in the coaches’ poll, fifth by The Associated Press.
The Bulldogs haven’t returned to the SEC title game since but a victory on Saturday would strengthen the perception they’re headed in that direction.
It also would please the former Bulldogs in the Chiefs’ locker room. At the moment, there are no former members of the Crimson Tide on the roster, although two others from that game, linebacker Nico Johnson (Alabama) and Sanders Commings (Georgia) are former Chiefs’ draft selections.
“That game, I’m still trying to get over it, that’s how much emotion we poured into it,” Murray said. “I still have nightmares about it.”