In the 20 years since the SEC instituted a league championship game, the winner has gone on to win the national title nine times.
Today, Alabama and Georgia are hoping for an opportunity to make that 10.
No. 2 Alabama (11-1) and No. 3 Georgia (11-1) battle it out in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game, but a conference title is not all that's on the line tonight. The winner earns the right to play undefeated Notre Dame in the BCS title game.
"To get a chance to play in this game means so much to us," Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "A lot of guys sacrificed a lot, many hours, practices, fighting through injuries and all that stuff just to get to the point where we are today. We're just grateful for this opportunity."
Georgia is playing in its second consecutive SEC title game, where it was routed 42-10 to LSU last season. That has the Bulldogs out for redemption.
"We're a different team than last year heading into the SEC Championship Game," senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I think we were just simply excited to be there and didn't realize what we could have done. … That's been dwelling on our minds since then. We're a hungry and humbled group that's ready to get to the game."
This is the first meeting between Georgia and Alabama since 2008, a 41-30 victory for the Crimson Tide. But for an Alabama team that has carried the defending national title bulls-eye on its back all season, the approach will not change.
"We basically are going to have the same mind-set we've been having all year," said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, the SEC's second-leading rusher behind Georgia's Todd Gurley. "We know it's going to be a tough opponent on both sides of the ball, and on special teams as well. So we just have to come out and prepare the same way we've been preparing and expect a dog fight."
For Georgia, a great deal of focus has been placed on Aaron Murray, the three-year starting quarterback and former Plant High standout.
Murray is 1-2 in bowl games, finally got his first win over a Top 10 team this year (17-9 over Florida) despite three interceptions, and is 0-1 in the SEC title game, numbers that have made him a target in the national media this week. His decision to remove himself from all media obligations this week increased that scrutiny, but his teammates said he's trying to make sure he's as prepared as he can possibly be.
"I just think he's dedicated to this week, and being prepared," Robinson said. "I know this one means so much to him. … He just wants to be completely ready and not have big distractions. This is the biggest game of our career."
The game features two of the SEC's top quarterbacks. Murray has thrown for 3,201 yards this season and leads Division I-A in passing efficiency (177.15). Alabama's AJ McCarron is second in I-A passing efficiency (176.26) and has 2,507 yards. It's Murray's ability to run that concerns the Tide.
"It's going to be very challenging," defensive back Dee Millner said.
Alabama enters the game with I-A's No. 1 total defense (233.67 yards per game), and the No. 1 scoring defense (9.25). Georgia is allowing 17.67 points per game, and each has a solid running back tandem.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said when he looks at both teams, he sees similar programs. The biggest edge for the Tide? They know how to win titles.
"There are a lot of similarities," Richt said. "One thing they've done is they've been national champions and we've not. They've been SEC champions and we've not during the time frame of these kids' careers. That's the biggest difference I see right now."