Bobby Pope

Familiar matchup at the Dome

Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will face Florida for the SEC championship game Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will face Florida for the SEC championship game Saturday at the Georgia Dome. AP

It might be time for Alabama and Florida to begin including the SEC championship game with their season ticket packages.

The two longtime powerhouse programs meet Saturday at the Georgia Dome for the second consecutive year in the game and for the ninth time overall since then-commissioner Roy Kramer started the game in 1992.

The Crimson Tide and Gators have been the dominant programs during the 25 years of the championship. Including this year, Florida has been a participant 12 different times and Alabama is making its 11th appearance.

In head-to-head competition in the championship game, Alabama holds a 6-2 edge. The Crimson Tide won the inaugural meeting in 1992, 28-21 in Birmingham, Alabama, where the contest was played for the first two years before moving to Atlanta in 1994 and where it has been held since.

Defensive back Antonio Langham’s 27-yard interception return for a touchdown of a Shane Matthews pass with just more than three minutes remaining provided the winning margin. That victory propelled Alabama to the national title game where it beat Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl for its 12th national crown.

That was the first of 12 national titles for the SEC during the next 24 years. In addition to that 1992 championship Alabama also was the nation’s best in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015; Florida in 1996, 2006 and 2008; LSU in 2003 and 2007; Tennessee in 1999 and Auburn in 2010. Even if Florida beats Alabama this year, which is doubtful, the Crimson Tide will still be in the College Football Playoff while Florida, with three losses, will not.

Alabama already lays claim to 16 national championships, along with 25 SEC titles.

Georgia, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee have all played in the SEC championship game five times while Arkansas has been there on three occasions and Missouri twice. South Carolina and Mississippi State have made it to Atlanta just once. Texas A&M, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are still looking for their first visit.

Georgia is 2-3 in its five appearances. The Bulldogs beat Arkansas 30-3 in 2002 and LSU 34-14 in 2005. The Bulldogs’ losses came against LSU twice — 34-13 in 2003 and 42-10 in 2011 — and to Alabama 32-28 in 2012. Georgia fans will recall that last game as the one the Bulldogs came up 5 yards short.

This year’s matchup between the Crimson Tide and Gators at the Georgia Dome is the final SEC title game at that facility. Next year, the game will be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium, now under construction, which is next door to the current Georgia Dome.

This is also the final SEC game for longtime CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who has done the play-by-play since 2001. Lundquist will be replaced by Brad Nessler. Nessler was Georgia Tech’s play-by-play man for both football and basketball in the early 1980s. Prior to joining CBS, he worked at ESPN.

The SEC, which started the conference playoffs in the Power 5 conference, has now been joined by the PAC-12, the ACC, the Big Ten (which consists of 14 teams), and next year, the Big 12 (with only 10 teams) will get in on the action. In my opinion the conference championships draw much more interest than the many — more than needed — bowl games, with exception of the playoff games.

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