After a roller-coaster ride spanning 12 games and the better part of three months, the Georgia Bulldogs have reached the point many Dawg fans hoped for, but surely far fewer actually believed: the SEC Championship Game, with the winner assured of advancing to the BCS National Championship. You will be shocked to find that the two members of our Manic-Depressive Preview team are of two completely different minds about this. Depressive Doug, still haunted by PTSD flashbacks of the second half of last year's SEC championship, very nearly insisted on doing this preview from bad, where he's been cowering in fear of Nick Saban ever since Alabama clinched the SEC West on Saturday. No such fear on the part of Manic Doug, who had to be bodily restrained from driving up to Atlanta today with one of those two-beer-drinking hats on his head, only relenting when reminded just how severely the Georgia State Patrol would frown on such an accessory. But here they both are, and their predictions for the biggest game of the Mark Richt era follow thusly.
Manic Doug: Wow. I mean, I dreamed of a moment like this, hoped it would happen, thought about what I'd do if it did happen . . . but now it's real. The Dawgs are facing Alabama in the SEC Championship Game for the first time, and if they win they're in the national championship game — to face Notre Dame, of all teams, a rematch of the 1980 Sugar Bowl that stands as our program's finest hour. Like, if you'd written this in a novel and gave it to me to read before the start of the season — hell, during the season — I would've thrown it back in your face and told you it was too hokey. But here we are.
MD: Jump in anytime, you know, if you want to, like, savor the moment or anything.
Depressive Doug: Nope, I'm good, thanks.
MD: Seriously? You're not thrilled right now? You're not chomping at the bit to see if the Dawgs can win the biggest game of their careers and earn the right to play in an even bigger one? This is what you live for as a member of Bu —
DD: Oh, God, stop. Just stop. Don't make this any more nerve-wracking than it already is. The pressure. People like you are why I've been afraid to get out of bed all week long . . .
MD: No, your social anxiety, clinical depression and deep-seated paranoia are why you're afraid to get out of bed, dillbag. Don't put this on the rest of us just because we dare to enjoy this moment and be proud of what the Dawgs have achieved this season.
DD: Hey, I'm proud. Eleven and one record? Division title? Number three in the nation? Second straight sweep of Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech? I'm incredibly proud of all that. When the time comes, I'll write soaring prose about this team and this coaching staff. But right now all I can think of is how all those achievements have . . . earned us the right to get our asses kicked by Alabama on national television.
MD: Oh, man, come on. Seriously? You've already marked us down with a loss — not just a loss but an embarrassing blowout? Wait — why am I even surprised by any of this?
DD: Beats me, but the writing's on the wall. We're up against Nick Saban. We're up against a team that's 59-7 over the last five seasons. It's an honest-to-God dynasty, and the truly scary thing is, it hardly even looks like work for them. Even this season, we've struggled with teams we should've dominated; Alabama just buzzsaws right through them.
MD: Except for Texas A&M, though, right? Which is the reason why they have the exact same record we do. And it's not like they've played any tougher a schedule than we have. When you strip away the Alabama brand and the Big Bad Saban intimidation nonsense, what you've got is a team we can go toe-to-toe with in terms of talent. So why don't you pull up your big-boy pants and tell me why you think we don't match up well with this team — not last year's Alabama squad, not one of Bear Bryant's teams, but the 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide.
DD: You asked for it, you got it. First and foremost: their defense. Currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in total yards allowed, just like last year. Higher than both the Florida team we struggled with for four quarters and the South Carolina team that absolutely embarrassed us in Columbia last month.
MD: Uh-huh. The same defense that gave up 435 yards to LSU's busted-ass offense and another 418 to Texas A&M the following week. Look, I get that they're good, but you got a long way to go to prove to me they're invincible.
DD: Oh, so you think our offensive line is going to be able to stand up to their front seven?
MD: We stood up against Florida's, why shouldn't we be able to stand up to theirs?
DD: Because Alabama has allowed fewer rushing yards and notched more sacks than they have?
MD: Dude, you're seriously selling our line short. Over the past five games they've paved the way for 845 rushing yards — including Todd Gurley going for 118 against the Gators, who weren't supposed to allow us to do anything. And aside from that one bad half in the Ole Miss game, they've only given up five sacks in that stretch, too.
DD: "Aside from that one bad half." You mean that half in which our linemen got worked by defenders who were like two-thirds their size? I seem to remember that a little differently than you do.
MD: Look, we've got two good running backs who can thrive even when put up against a tough defense. Aaron Murray has been a straight-up assassin ever since the fourth quarter in Jacksonville. LSU and A&M both proved that a well-planned intermediate passing game can work against the Tide, and once we've got them biting on those middle-distance passes, we uncork a long one to Malcolm Mitchell or Tavarres King, who'll be going up against a banged-up secondary. I'm not saying we're going to run wild on them, but we're easily the best, most balanced offense they've faced all year.
DD: Yeah, that and a buck-fifty will get you a tall coffee at Starbucks. Look, Nick Saban doesn't care about your starry-eyed notions of "balance" and he doesn't care what a stand-up guy Aaron Murray is. He's going to blitz us like crazy, and I'm sorry, I don't think a pair of true-freshman running backs or a QB who has yet to put up truly good numbers in a big game is going to be prepared for that.
MD: OK, fine, you don't have any confidence in our offense. You didn't before the Florida game, either, and we still came out of that one just fine.
DD: Despite throwing three interceptions. And the only reason we won was because the Gators somehow managed to cough up six turnovers.
MD: Well, someone had to force those turnovers, didn't they? You don't think our defense might've had something to do with that?
DD: Of course they did. But do you really think a team as disciplined as Nick Saban's is going to just drop the ball in our laps six times?
MD: No, I'm not counting on that. But I think our defense matches up well with them. Their strength is an offensive line that just road-grades people; one of our big strengths is a defensive front seven that flies to the ball. Which is not to say that we're going to be in their backfield harassing A.J. McCarron all afternoon long, but I'd give Jarvis Jones a shot against any O-line in the country.
DD: You'd better hope so, because McCarron is sitting right behind Aaron Murray at No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency.
MD: Which is easy to do when all you're asked to do is manage the offense and not do anything too risky — all an Alabama quarterback has ever been asked to do as long as I can remember. But even there, I think the speed of our linebacking corps matches up well with the intermediate passing game Alabama's had such success with. They might decide to go deep every once in a while, but the way their receiving corps has been depleted by injuries, I'm confident our defensive backs can handle them one-on-one.
DD: Hmmm. Quarterback who isn't asked to do too much, but is devastatingly efficient at what he does do; strong intermediate passing game; receiving corps that's not as strong as it once was; one of the best power running games in the country. You know what Alabama's offense reminds me of?
MD: Why don't you just save us all some time and tell us.
DD: South Carolina's. And how'd that work out for us last time?
MD: Look, if you're waiting for me to tell you we played like anything other than hot garbage in Columbia last month, you're gonna need to bring a book. It was a terrible game, we weren't prepared, we looked awful. Stipulated. But we're a different team now than we were then, just like the team that destroyed Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl in '08 was completely different from the one that had gotten its ass handed to it by Tennessee just a couple months before. I'm not worried about our preparation for this game, not worried about Shawn Williams needing to make any comments calling out the defense, because they know this is the game of their lives. And they just happen to be playing in it at a time when the team as a whole is clicking better than it has in years.
DD: Jeez. I knew you were a cockeyed optimist, but I thought the specter of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide might actually bring you back down to earth.
MD: I am back on earth. You're the one who's getting himself needlessly worked up. Again, Alabama's good this year. No one's going to deny that. But we know they're not invincible. Well, I know it, anyway, you seem to be a little slow in catching up. But . . .
DD: Gee, thanks. And people wonder why I'm always so reluctant to do these with you. Clearly we're not going to come to any kind of agreement about how the game's going to go or how much Georgia needs to be afraid of the mighty Tide, so how about you give me what I'm sure will be an evidence-free, irrationally sunny prediction of how the game's going to go so we can wrap this up.
MD: I'll do you one better: I'll give you a rational prediction. Because it's rational to think that our defense will play with the same intensity it showed against Florida. It's rational to think that we'll be able to take away the deep ball and force Bama to go on some long, drawn-out drives. And while it's rational to think Aaron Murray won't be going off for 400 yards or anything against this defense, it's also entirely rational to think he can shrug off whatever mistakes he makes and lead us on a touchdown drive late in the game that puts us up by four points. The defense makes a big stop short of the end zone, and Georgia walks away with a 27-23 victory . . . and a ticket to the BCS National Championship Game.
DD: Wow. That does sound pretty awesome.
MD: I know, right?! Come on, man, believe.
DD: I'm trying . . . I'm really trying . . . but nope. Sorry. Just can't believe that our defense stops Alabama's running game, or that our running backs can make a dent in their front seven, or that Aaron Murray is suddenly going to make his defining statement game against the top defense in college football. I think what we're looking at is a game that's a lot like last year's — a slow start as the teams kind of feel each other out, not a lot of big offensive plays, maybe Georgia even heads toward halftime with a small lead. But nobody does halftime adjustments like Alabama, and considering that the Tide are in the top 10 nationally with a +14 turnover margin, I think they grab momentum in the second half with a big turnover and never let it go. Maybe we put another score on the board after Saban has already called off his dogs, but in the end it's Alabama 38, Georgia 13.
MD: Dude. I'm devastated.
DD: Sorry. That's what I'm seeing.
MD: Well, I guess I should be grateful that you don't actually think this game will be as lopsided as last year's, but . . . man. The moment this team has been working on for years, and you don't think we'll rise to the occasion any better than that.
DD: Look, I would love nothing better than to see this team mount an amazing upset. But this is Alabama we're talking about. You can rise to the occasion all you want, play the game of your life, and they'll still beat you.
MD: Well, our predictions average out to a 31-20 Bama victory, so on aggregate, apparently that's exactly what we're predicting. But I don't care. Until the clock hits four zeroes, I'm going to believe we have a chance to win this game.
DD: You go right on believing that if it makes you happy. But let the record show you also thought you had a chance to win that Powerball jackpot.
MD: And I still do, man! Five hundred and eighty million dollars! Just think of all the season tickets we could buy with —
DD: Actually, they've already announced that winning tickets were sold in Arizona and Missouri, so you're gonna have to put those plans on hold, Rockefeller.
MD: It's like you live to ruin my fun. But I don't care. When Georgia pulls the upset of all upsets this weekend, I'm never going to let you hear the end of it.
DD: If Georgia pulls that off, I think I can live with being constantly reminded about it, I assure you.
MD: You sure about that? I mean, I can be pretty annoying.
DD: No! You? Are you serious?
MD: I sense I'm being mocked here. But the joke's on you: I'm totally used to it.
DD: Imagine my complete lack of surprise. Again.