Believe it or not, Georgia fields a football team, too. - Scott Cunningham
Much of the national media attention surrounding this weekend's SEC Championship Game focuses on the Alabama Crimson Tide, yet the Georgia Bulldogs' proud legacy should not be overlooked.
The Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide between them received eight of ten first-place votes in this week’s SEC Power Poll and together topped six of the ten BlogPoll ballots that did not rank the Notre Dame Fighting Irish No. 1. In short, we know the Southeastern Conference division champions are good. Though the winner of Saturday’s SEC Championship Game will be favored to beat the Irish in the BCS Championship Game, that is not what interests me; rather, I am most intrigued by the conference championship history between the ‘Dawgs and the Tide.
Alabama, obviously, represents the gold standard for SEC programs, both historically and recently. Since 1933, the Crimson Tide have won 22 conference crowns, more than anyone else in the league, and eight division titles, tied for the most in the SEC West. On Saturday, ‘Bama will be playing in the SEC Championship Game for the third time in a five-year span. What gets lost in the midst of the lack of love for the Red and Black by idiotic national pundits who wrongly fail to acknowledge Georgia as more than merely an intermittent regional power, however, is the fact that the Bulldogs have won more SEC titles than any team in the league other than Alabama or the Tennessee Volunteers. The Red and Black have won twelve SEC championships to the Big Orange’s thirteen, and the Athenians’ seven division titles trail only the Florida Gators’ tally in the SEC East.
It should, therefore, surprise no one except the national pundits who mistakenly view the Bulldogs as the red-headed stepchild of the Southeastern Conference that this year’s scenario---in which Georgia and Alabama inevitably will finish as the top two teams in the SEC---is by no means an unusual one. (Yes, I realize that the loser of Saturday’s matchup will fall below Florida in the BCS standings, but Will Muschamp is well aware of which objective represents the actual prize, so I’m going to focus solely on the conference, and not on the national, picture.)
Georgia and Alabama were the top two teams in the SEC ten times prior to this season, beginning with the title shared by the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide in 1966. Due to the Saturday Evening Post scandal, that autumn was the first since 1943 in which Georgia and Alabama did not meet, so both finished 6-0 in league play and were tied for first place. The Tide won the Sugar Bowl to cap an 11-0 season, while the ‘Dawgs ended up 10-1 after claiming victory in the Cotton Bowl.
Four times in the 1970s, ‘Bama completed an undefeated run through its conference slate in a season in which the Red and Black finished with a lone blemish in their league ledger, landing the Athenians in no worse than a tie for second place in the SEC. That happened in 1971 (when Alabama went 7-0 in conference play and Georgia finished 5-1 in the league), 1975 (Alabama 6-0, Georgia 5-1), 1978 (Alabama 6-0, Georgia 5-0-1), and 1979 (Alabama 6-0, Georgia 5-1). The Bulldogs returned the favor in 1976 (when the Red and Black won the conference crown with a 5-1 record in a year in which the Tide went 5-2) and again in 1980 (when Georgia went 6-0 and Alabama went 5-1). The SEC champion went on to claim the national championship in three of those seasons.
The Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide again finished in a snarl atop the league in 1981, when both teams went 6-0 in conference play. Georgia was Sugar Bowl-bound, while Alabama headed to the Cotton Bowl. Though the two teams have not previously met in the SEC Championship Game, they have finished first and second twice before in the divisional era. In 1992, Alabama went 8-0 in conference play and won the SEC West, while Georgia went 6-2 and tied for first place in the SEC East. In 2002, the Red and Black claimed the Eastern Division crown with a 7-1 record and the Crimson and White finished first in the Western Division with a 6-2 ledger in a season in which ‘Bama was ineligible to claim the title.
Beginning with that 2002 campaign and continuing through this Saturday afternoon, Georgia will have appeared in the SEC Championship Game five times, while Alabama will have faced the Eastern Division winner in the Georgia Dome thrice during that span, yet never before have the two SEC stalwarts met in that venue. Contrary to what the so-called experts would tell you, though, that does not mean that the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide are not often locked in combat with one another over bragging rights as the Southeastern Conference champion. They are, and this weekend’s meeting represents yet another chapter in the storied history of two---not one, two---of the top programs in the country’s toughest league.