Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was discussing the impending game with Auburn last week when he was asked about the likely Southeastern Conference championship showdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
"I bet they're going to be huge favorites in the game, and rightly so," Murray said. "They're undefeated, and they're the No. 1 team in the nation. They haven't lost a game in God knows how long and have won [national] championships two out of the past three years. Obviously they are going to be favored."
Only now it's not so obvious.
As Alabama was coming up short in a 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M this past weekend, Georgia was getting going in its 38-0 blasting of the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mark Richt's Bulldogs, who showed such little life in a 35-7 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 6 and struggled past Kentucky on Oct. 20, have caught fire in becoming the first team to punch a ticket to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1.
Alabama (9-1 overall, 6-1 SEC) needs to defeat Auburn on Nov. 24 to join the Bulldogs (9-1, 7-1), who have defeated Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn the past three Saturdays by a combined 92-19 and are the only SEC team that hasn't lost during the past five weeks.
"They were a good team that just had a bad night, a terrible night, and we played probably our top game of the year," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday. "Sometimes it can go like that, but they regrouped, so give Coach Richt, his staff and players some credit. They've won them all since they left here.
"Their schedule was favorable, but that's the way it is sometimes. They beat Florida, which was a huge game, and they're the Eastern Division champs again. It's very similar to last year. We're 6-2 two years in a row without winning the division, and we beat the winner."
Georgia's opposition from the West was not as strong as what Florida and South Carolina encountered, but the Bulldogs did pull a rare feat. Georgia had not defeated Auburn, Florida and Tennessee in the same season since the league went to divisional play in 1992 until the Bulldogs swept them last year, and now they've done it again.
Richt admitted the mood was different in clinching the East compared to last season, when that title trip was a first since 2005. Once in Atlanta a year ago, the Bulldogs led LSU early before getting walloped 42-10.
"We are excited about it, and I don't want to belittle it in any way, shape or form," Richt said after the game, "but since we were there last year and didn't do very well, we want to have a better performance. There is also a little different feeling in everyone's spirit that Atlanta is not the end of the road, we hope."
Richt said Sunday that this team could be reminiscent of his 2002 SEC title team in terms of playing very good defense, rarely turning it over and being solid in the kicking game. That team closed by routing Georgia Tech 51-7, drubbing Arkansas 30-3 in Atlanta and then dumping Florida State 26-13 in the Sugar Bowl.
The Bulldogs, who remained No. 5 in the BCS standings, host Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech the next two weeks. This Saturday will mark the first time Georgia hasn't played an SEC team the game before facing the Yellow Jackets since 1958, when The Citadel was the next-to-last foe.
Odds and ends
Murray now leads the SEC and ranks third nationally in pass efficiency (170.66). ... Senior safety Bacarri Rambo collected his 15th career interception at Auburn, leaving him one shy of the school mark set by Jake Scott during the 1967-68 seasons.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...