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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Alabama-Georgia game looks like BCS title-game tuneup

Crimson Tide faces expectations while Bulldogs have everything to prove in SEC title matchup where opponents know each other well.

Chris Dufresne

December 1, 2012

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ATLANTA -- Alabama and Georgia haven't played in football since 2008 but won't be completely startled when they bump into each other at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

At stake is the Southeastern Conference championship — otherwise known as the "Bowl Championship Series title pregame show."

The programs are mirror images, with the same 11-1 record and boots-on-the-ground SEC mentality. "There's not a whole lot of tricks or gimmicks with us or them," Alabama Coach Nick Saban remarked this week.

Alabama and Georgia come from opposite divisions, West and East, but not opposite philosophies. Both like to run and stop the run and utilize the same 3-4 defense. Todd Grantham, Georgia's coordinator, used to work for Saban at Michigan State.

Both teams think, as a rule, big guys can beat up smaller guys. And both prefer quarterbacks who are managers rather than entertainers.

So while Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel may lead the NCAA's Incredible Ratings and win the Heisman Trophy, the nation's top two passing efficiency leaders are Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron.

The biggest differences in the programs are in accomplishment and reputation.

Alabama has nothing to prove while Georgia has just about everything. Alabama is one win from playing for its third BCS title since 2009 and most of America is already looking forward to its national title matchup against Notre Dame.

Georgia's last national championship team, in 1980, had Herschel Walker. More recently, the program has tried to stay one step ahead of its howling fan base. They are the "Dawgs" who folded after starting the preseason No. 1 in 2008, a ranking that was exposed when they lost to Alabama.

Georgia also stained the SEC last year with an opening loss to Boise State. The Bulldogs' 0-2 start was only calmed when they reeled off 10 straight wins before disappointing fans again with lopsided SEC title-game loss to Louisiana State.

While Alabama needed a break to get back in this season's title race, the perception is that Georgia found a golden ticket in a candy bar.

Asked Friday why Alabama and Georgia are the one-loss teams that deserve to play for the national title, Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt quipped, "Because that's where the BCS voted us. I don't know, there's a formula and here we are."

That is also Georgia's best defense in the court of public opinion.

Georgia's suspect nonconference schedule is only underwhelmed by a league slate that skipped the best teams in the West — Alabama, Louisiana State and Texas A&M. Georgia's 28-point loss at South Carolina was so vilified that Bulldogs quarterback Murray returned home to find his housed had been egged.

And that wasn't even Murray's worst game, which was Georgia's ugly 17-9 win at Florida in which he had three passes intercepted. Florida had six turnovers.

The thing is, the first signature win of Murray's career could put Georgia in the national title game. Georgia may be 2-9 against the top 25 in his four years, but how soon that would be forgotten.

"We understand the weight that this game holds," star Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones said.

In other BCS conference title games:

•Big Ten, Nebraska (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (7-5): Don't take this the wrong way Wisconsin, but please lose.

College football has been embarrassing enough of late without sending the first five-loss team to the Rose Bowl. Thankfully, momentum seems to be on the side of a Nebraska team that won six straight games to capture the Legends Division flag. Wisconsin has lost three of its last four and finished third in Leaders division behind Ohio State and Penn State, advancing to the title game only because those teams are ineligible for postseason play.

•Atlantic Coast, Florida State (10-2) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6): Another title game that needs an asterisk. The winner receives an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Florida State limps in after last week's second-half collapse in a home loss to Florida; Georgia Tech is coming off a blowout defeat at Georgia.

"We haven't played very well defensively, there's no secret about that," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson said. No kidding. The Yellow Jackets are tied for 84th — out of 120 teams — in scoring defense after allowing 116 points in their last three games.

Georgia Tech is only in the title game because, in the ACC Coastal Division, Miami decided to self-impose another bowl ban and North Carolina also is ineligible for the postseason.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com