By PAUL NEWBERRY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The national championship could be decided with a dream matchup between two of college football’s most storied programs: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.
Of course, Georgia might have something to say about that.
The third-ranked Bulldogs are eager to wake up some echoes of their own.
Coach Mark Richt’s team will take on No. 2 Alabama in a Southeastern Conference title game that essentially serves as a national semifinal. The winner of Saturday’s contest at the Georgia Dome will surely land a spot against top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS title game at Miami on Jan. 7.
While Alabama (11-1) is a seven-point favorite to remain on course for its third crown in four years, Georgia (11-1) wants to carve out its own legacy, something beyond the great teams of the early 1980s led by Herschel Walker.
“We respect and honor those guys that played ahead of us, but we really need to give the fans something else to talk about,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “If that’s all we have to talk about, we must not be doing anything special.”
Georgia won its only Associated Press national title in 1980, Walker’s freshman year. The Bulldogs were in position to win another two years later, the running back’s final season between the hedges, but Penn State knocked them off in the Sugar Bowl.
In an interesting twist, Walker announced this week that he’ll soon be opening a restaurant in Athens after the first of the year.
By then, the Bulldogs hope they’ve cooked up another national title.
All those who’ve come along since Walker will be cheering on this team, including Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. He played at Georgia in the late ‘90s and planned to give the Bulldogs a pep talk by phone.
“We can’t let this one slide,” Bailey said. “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because I’m tired of people talking about Herschel Walker. That was 30-something years ago. There’s been a lot of things happen between now and then, but no championships. That’s why they still talk about him.”
Indeed, even though Georgia finished No. 2 in the AP rankings in 2007, this is the best shot at finishing No. 1 since the Walker era. If the Bulldogs win the next two games, they’re the champions.
“We’re hungry,” Robinson said. “We’ve got something to prove.”
So does Alabama.
A year ago, the Crimson Tide didn’t even make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game — LSU won the Western Division — but Alabama got a do-over against the Tigers for the BCS title. Even with a resounding 21-0 victory, there are still those who think the Tide didn’t deserve a second chance after losing to LSU in the regular season.
If Alabama beats Georgia and Notre Dame, no one can say the Tide didn’t earn it, despite an upset loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.