When Oregon and Kansas State both went down, Aaron Murray whooped it up as much as any Georgia fan. He knew what that meant for the Bulldogs: a shot at the national championship.
Ive never screamed so much at the television and prayed so much in my life, Georgias star quarterback said Tuesday. It was definitely an exciting night. We were screaming, high-fiving, hugging, group hugs. It was a lot of fun.
Funny thing, though. Outside of this state, hardly anyone is talking about the Southeastern Conferences other title contender.
Instead, everyone is gushing about the possibility of two storied programs Alabama and Notre Dame playing for No. 1.
Georgia, it seems, is just an afterthought.
We dont mind being the underdogs, Murray said. We know what we have to do, and thats win games. If we do that, well be good to go.
Indeed, while it may appear the third-ranked Bulldogs are trying to sneak in the back door, they have exactly the same path to the championship as the top-ranked Fighting Irish and second-ranked Crimson Tide.
Win out. Win it all.
For Georgia, it started with Saturdays regular-season finale against state rival Georgia Tech (6-6). The Bulldogs have won 11 of 12 in the series and more than held up their end in a victory against the high-scoring Yellow Jackets. Still, coach Mark Richt worked hard to ensure his team doesnt get caught looking ahead to the SEC championship game against Alabama the next week.
He went to some rather extreme measures to keep the one-game-at-a-time mentality. Richt refuses to even say whether he was watching last Saturday night when Kansas State got blown out by Baylor and Oregon lost in overtime to Stanford, allowing Georgia to jump to No. 3 in the BCS standings.
If anyone tries to bring up Alabama or the BCS, Richt wont even respond.
I had to hang up on my mom, he said, only half-joking.
Richt insists theres been no discussion with his staff about what might happen beyond the Georgia Tech game, and he said theres no need to remind his players its business as usual.
We meet every day to talk about how were going to handle the week who were playing next, what kind of challenges they bring, what were going to do on a daily basis to get ready for them, Richt said. Thats all we do.
After Saturday, the picture is even clearer.
Notre Dame (12-0) picked up a critical 22-13 victory against disappointing Southern Cal, and the Trojans were hampered further by the absence of star quarterback Matt Barkley. He didnt play because of a sprained right shoulder, forcing the Trojans to give freshman Max Wittek his first career start. Alabama (11-1) opened as a 33-point pick over hapless Auburn, which is winless in the SEC and wrapping up its worst season in decades.
If all three favorites win, Notre Dame is assured of a spot in the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in Miami. The SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia (11-1) essentially would serve as a national semifinal.
Of course, nothing is assured in this sport.
Just ask Kansas State and Oregon.
Not to get negative, said Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson, pondering the idea of losing to the Yellow Jackets with so much on the line, but it could be horrible. It could be everything we didnt want this season to be about. People would pile on everything negative they could think about us.
We have an opponent coming here that probably hates us more than any other opponent. And its probably mutual.
Its stunning that Georgia (11-1) had clawed its way into this position considering what happened Oct. 6.
The Bulldogs rolled into South Carolina for a crucial game between two unbeaten teams and got blown out. They were behind 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and lost 35-7, scoring a meaningless touchdown in the closing minutes just to avoid a shutout.
According to STATS LLC, no team that has finished No. 1 in The Associated Press poll or claimed the Bowl Championship Series title with such a lopsided loss on its record. The worst defeat by a champion came in 1983, when Miami dropped its opener to Florida 28-3 but rebounded to win its last 11 games, including an upset of then-No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia dropped to No. 14 in the AP poll after the debacle in Columbia, which most thought was too far back to have any shot at No. 1. But the Bulldogs bounced back with five consecutive wins, most notably a 17-9 triumph over Florida, and kept climbing as one unbeaten team after another fell in defeat.
After South Carolina, especially, we had to take a step back and realize that we can control our future, tight end Arthur Lynch said. We havent looked ahead.
Now, even though the Bulldogs are one of just three teams that controls its own destiny, theyre not breaking from the philosophy that has served them well.
So this week, it was all about Georgia Tech.
No matter what the records are, or whats happening, nothing changes the fact that if we lose to them, its a living hell for the next 365 days, Lynch said. Its what fuels me and gets me motivated. If youre not motivated for this game, you probably shouldnt come to Georgia. You always have to beat Tech.