by Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports
College football won't have a four-team playoff in place for another two years, but Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta will have the same impact as a national semifinal.
Sunday's penultimate BCS standings confirmed that the winner between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia will earn a spot in the Jan. 7 national championship game opposite Notre Dame, which clinched the top position and capped off a 12-0 season with a 22-13 victory at Southern Cal.
"If you think about what the game means, it really doesn't help you win," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "The only thing that helps you win is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That's what you've got to do physically, mentally, to be ready to handle your business when the ball gets kicked off. That's my only focus and I don't worry about the other stuff."
Saturday will mark the seventh consecutive year the winner of the SEC championship game qualifies for the national title game, and no other conferences came close this time. With No. 4 Florida locked in at 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in five of the six computer formulas, it would be impossible at this point for No. 5 Oregon, which didn't qualify for the Pac-12 championship game, to pass the Gators. Kansas State, currently at No. 6, will try to clinch the Big 12 championship Saturday against Texas.
By sitting out this week, Florida will pass the loser of the SEC championship game and move up to No. 3 in the final standings, clinching a spot in a BCS bowl, likely the Sugar. But because leagues can place a maximum of two teams in the BCS, either Georgia or Alabama will likely head to the Capital One Bowl.
"For either of these teams it's not really a great scenario," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It doesn't seem quite right, but it is what it is."
Georgia has gotten to this point despite facing just two ranked teams, losing one of those games by four touchdowns. But even after a 35-7 setback at South Carolina on Oct. 6, Richt didn't believe his team was out of it, and the Bulldogs have quietly risen through the rankings as others lost. Now they're just one win away from playing for the national title.
"We knew it was just one game and we also knew everybody was responsible for that one," Richt said. "We lost together, so we had to regroup together and we didn't panic. We went back to work."
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