ATHENS -- Alabama has one loss. So does Georgia. Alabama is one of the nations top three teams, ranking-wise. So is Georgia.
Alabamas Nick Saban has won 74 percent of his games as a college head coach. Georgias Mark Richt has won 75 percent.
Alabama runs a 3-4 defense, a pro-style offense and a no-frills approach in general. Ditto for Georgia.
But as the two get ready to square off for the SEC championship and a spot in the national title game, Richt did see one very major difference.
Theyve been winning national championships, and weve not, Richt said.
Two, in fact, in the past three years. And Alabama is favored to make it three of four. But if Georgia is going to pull off the upset and get in position for its own title shot, it will have to beat a team almost a mirror image of itself.
The reason for the schematic similarities is obvious.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is a protégé of Saban, who hired Grantham at Michigan State in the 1990s. Saban has often praised Grantham and did so again Sunday.
Ive always been really close to Todd professionally and personally. I think hes done a phenomenal job there, Saban said. If youre gonna rank assistants, hes one of the two or three best that Ive had on my staff.
Offensively, both teams strive to have balance between the run and pass and have the personnel to do so. Alabama churns out Heisman-caliber tailbacks on a regular basis, while Georgia has a special pair of freshmen in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will enter Saturdays game ranked first in the nation in pass efficiency rating. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is second.
Theres not a lot of tricks or gimmicks with us and them, Saban said. (Its about) execution. I think players like that, play with more confidence in what theyre supposed to do.
Georgia is now hoping its own experiences can even any Alabama advantage that comes from being the defending national champion. After all, the Bulldogs are making a second straight trip to the SEC championship game, and several players said Saturday the experience will help.
As a team, you never want to lose a game when youve won the first half, when youve dominated that way, Georgia senior linebacker Christian Robinson said, alluding to a 10-0 lead for Georgia that turned into a 42-10 LSU win in this game last year. Thats been on our minds, the pictures of Tyrone Mathieu scoring on us. We couldve done so much better. We have a different team, a different opponent. Were coming to put our best foot forward.
We really wanna go out there and not have a repeat of last year, senior defensive end Cornelius Washington said. We had a chance at it last year, and we let it slip through our fingers. And were not gonna let that happen this year. Were not gonna let the same thing go down. We really wanna go out and win and give ourselves a place in Miami. Weve been talking about it the entire season. Weve been training for it since the beginning of the year.
Still, Georgia will hear all week about its weaker schedule and how it was blown out at South Carolina. Thats the main reason it began as a 7.5-point underdog to Alabama, according to the Las Vegas sports books.
But Richt bristled Sunday evening when he was asked about his teams schedule and said the team was untested.
Weve already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida, Richt said. We can only play who is on our schedule. ... Well be prepared. But they will be, too. Thats why you kick it off and play.
Since the BCS era began, the Bulldogs have never played a game knowing that if they won, they were in the national championship game. The other years Georgia has been close (when it finished No. 3 in 2002 and 2007) it entered the final weekend needing help. And didnt get it.
In fact, you have to go back to 1982 to the most recent time Georgia has been in position for a national title this late in the season.
The winner of Saturdays game will face Notre Dame, the same team that Georgia beat in 1980 to win its last national title. The nations second-ranked team that year was Alabama.
But Richt said no one had even mentioned those similarities to him. He would probably prefer that to the story line of Georgia being untested this year, which came up more than once on Sundays call.
Again, all we can do is prepare our boys to get after it and play the best they can, Richt said. Well see where it goes.