ATLANTA -- Bring on Notre Dame.
Book the flight to Miami.
Alabama will play for a third national title in four years after beating Georgia 32-28 in the SEC championship game Saturday night, and that victory is expected to land the Tide in the BCS title contest when the pairings are released Sunday. No. 1-ranked Notre Dame stands as the likely opponent in the Jan. 7 game in Miami.
But to get this far, the Crimson Tide had to survive a struggle of a game with Georgia, which Alabama head coach Nick Saban compared to a boxing match in which his team had to punch through to the 15th round.
It featured six lead changes, including three in the fourth quarter. It ended with Georgia having the ball at the Tide 5-yard line.
I dont even know when the BCS game is, Saban said. Ill look at the calendar (Sunday).
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, the former backup to current NFL stars Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, took the games MVP honors. He rushed for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Afterward, Ingram, who attended the game, hugged Lacy and told him he never had seen him run better.
The winning points, however, came on a deep pass, as AJ McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown with 3:15 to play. Saban said the Tide took advantage of Georgia switching its defense to stop the run.
Georgia nearly rallied, but when Aaron Murray completed a 3-yard pass to Chris Conley to the Tide 5, the Bulldogs had no timeouts left. As Georgia tried to set up another play, the clock hit zero, setting off a celebration that featured confetti dropping from the Georgia Dome ceiling.
We came up short to an outstanding football team, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. We played well. They played well. Time ran out. What are you going to do?
The victory gave Alabamas senior class of only nine players its 48th win in 2009-12, marking the winningest four-year stretch in the programs history. Most of those seniors joined the program in the 2008, sitting out a season as redshirts and then putting together that run.
A lot of these guys came to Alabama when we werent worth a hoot, Saban said. We were 7-6 and went to the Independence Bowl. Thats when they came here.
Theres more to do. With a win in Miami over the Irish, this group can do something that hasnt happened in Tide history: three national titles in four years. The closest period is three in a five-year span in 1961-65.
They sort of have an unprecedented opportunity to accomplish something of significance, Saban said.