Three questions for second-ranked Alabama (11-1, 7-1) as it heads into Saturday's meeting (3 p.m. CT/CBS) with No. 3 Georgia (11-1, 7-1) in the SEC Championship Game.
Despite having better big-game credentials, McCarron enters Saturday's game as the "other" quarterback.
Are these Dawgs capable of handling the moment?
While making the sports talk and message board rounds this week, I had a Georgia fan ask me who I would take if I needed a score with less than two minutes remaining in the game: AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray?
It wasn't that the guy asked the question, because given the likelihood for a tight game in a championship setting, it's a potential scenario that may very well play out on the field Saturday.
Instead, it was the manner in which the question was was asked, as if Murray had been there and done that and McCarron was the guy looking to exorcise some big-game demons.
While I'm not among those who believe Murray will melt under the bright lights of the Georgia Dome on Saturday, I did take a second to fill the questioner in on McCarron's offensive most valuable player performance in the BCS National Championship Game.
I mean, it happened way back in January, so it's understandable how one might forget.
For anyone else who has been on an offshore rig since Halloween, McCarron also engineered a game-winning drive in Baton Rouge earlier in the month. And while it came in defeat, McCarron did pass for 201 yards in the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game.
In other words, it's not like the guy has a track record of going fetal when oxygen becomes a precious commodity.
The way the question was posed was symbolic of a theme we've seen and heard from the UGA contingent since, oh, 2008 or so. Outwardly, at least, the Red and Black feel very good about their chances against Alabama.
And given that the Bulldogs head to Atlanta on the strength of four straight blowout wins, they're optimism is somewhat justified. But here's what I've yet to figure out: Is UGA really that confident or are they just trying to talk themselves into it?
If not for the time I spent on the field during the pregame of the 2008 Alabama-Georgia game in Athens, I'd probably lean toward the latter.
I still recall the distinct difference in how the two teams went about their business that night. The Bulldogs, full of the kind of swagger that comes standard with the nation's No. 3 ranking, seemed more interested in their highly-publicized black jerseys and playing to their fans.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the field, Alabama went through its paces with the efficiency and focus of Seal Team Six. Again, this was before the game even started, but considering that it was all over shortly after warmups, in retrospect, it was telling.
As for this week, expect more of the same, with UGA doing plenty of woofing during the early stages of the game. The key for Alabama will be to resist the urge to engage the Bulldogs in the kind of garbage that has become a staple of the Florida-Georgia rivalry.
For Alabama, the recipe remains the same: Play clean, take care of the football and find out just how confident the latest challenger to the throne really is.
After all, this won't be the first time the Crimson Tide has heard Georgia talk the talk. Now, with the stakes at a thirty-year high for Mark Richt's team, we'll find out if his Bulldogs are finally capable of walking the walk.
Which offense will win the balancing act?
Given that Georgia's offensive chain of command consists of two former quarterbacks (Richt and Mike Bobo) playing the game through Murray, the Bulldogs' renewed commitment to the running game has been fascinating to watch.
Of course, it's easier to dial up runs when a couple of dynamic freshmen -- Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- actually live up to the hype, something a long list of previous UGA backs failed to do.
Still, some coaches, like some players, aren't immune to the big-game adrenaline rush. Will Bobo stick with the run if it isn't there early or will he revert to his pass-happy ways, asking Murray to shoulder the load while working behind an average offensive line and without two of his most productive receivers?
For Alabama, the question isn't so much if the Crimson Tide will stick with the run as it is how it will go about establishing it. Pass early to run late or the other way around?
Given the scores of its last two games, it seems appropriate that 49-0 is the key stat for the Crimson Tide this week. In addition to serving as the final score for the Western Carolina and Auburn games, should the Crimson Tide get a win while rushing for 150 yards or more this week it would represent its record under Nick Saban since 2008 when rushing for a hundred and a half.
In winning those 48 games, Alabama reached the magic number in a variety of ways. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how the Crimson Tide running game gets there just so long as it does.
A trip to Florida, although the drop off between the game that will be played in Miami Gardens and those contested in Orlando and Tampa couldn't be more precipitous.
But first there's business to tend to in Atlanta, a city that has been very good to Alabama football in recent years. From kick-starting the Saban era with a beatdown of Clemson to all but ending the Urban Meyer era at Florida with a thumping of the Gators, it could be said that everything the Crimson Tide has achieved since 2008 goes back to the ATL.
And don't discount the prestige that comes with winning an SEC Championship. We tend to forget that UA has won just three of those since 1992. In winning three national titles during that same span, it could be argued that Alabama has had a harder time winning the league than it has winning it all.
A win Saturday wouldn't just solidify Alabama's status as one of college football's top two teams this season, it would further cement the Crimson Tide's place as college football's premier program.
And that's more than just talk.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Georgia 20.
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