Whatever curse it is that Alabama has over Georgia, it’s still in effect.

That was evident as the No. 8 Crimson Tide defeated No. 1 Georgia 27-24 in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. It was Alabama’s fourth consecutive win over the Bulldogs in the state’s capital and the third in the conference championship game. Coached by Kirby Smart’s mentor, Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide (12-1) is now 18-1 in Atlanta under its 72-year-old coach.

“You know how tired I am right now?” Saban cracked at his postgame press conference. “I’m happy as hell we won. My speech in the locker room was one word: ‘Celebrate.’ And I had just enough in the take to do a dance.”

The emotions were starkly different on the other side. Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who was mentored by Saban for 10 years before taking over at his alma mater, was still a bit dumbstruck.

“A field goal that hits the dang upright after an offsides,” Smart lamented in his postgame presser. “We spotted them 10 just off of a turnover, a touchdown on a busted coverage by a freshman. When you give good teams those things, they’re going to be hard to beat. But, man, am I proud of our fight and resiliency.”

Now comes the truly messy part. Overnight Saturday, the College Football Playoff selection committee will have to decide what to do with both teams. Georgia (12-1), which is the two-time-defending national champion and had won 29 games in a row, entered Saturday as a commanding No. 1 team. Now the Bulldogs possibly could fall out of the top four for the first time in three seasons.

Meanwhile, the committee has an even bigger decision to make with Alabama. Not only did the Tide start the day four spots out of what would be the four-team semifinals, they started one place behind Texas. The Longhorns (12-1) happen to have beaten Bama head-to-head in Tuscaloosa in the third game of the season. They also won the Big 12 Championship game convincingly over Oklahoma State, 49-21.

No. 5 Oregon (11-2) fell to third-ranked Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game Friday night. So what to do with the three remaining one-loss teams – pending Saturday’s late games featuring undefeated and No. 2-ranked Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game and No. 4 Florida State for the ACC title – is the challenge for the selection committee.

To no one’s surprise, both sides believe they are deserving.

“We won the SEC. We beat the No. 1 team in the country,” Saban said. “If we needed to do something to pass the eye test, I guess that should probably contribute significantly.

Said Smart: “Look at what we’ve done this season, to go on the road, the teams we beat, the teams that are in the top 20 that we were able to beat. I don’t know if this is right or not, CFP era, a team goes in at 1, I don’t think has fallen out of that. Not that history means anything. When you talk about four best teams, watch the game. Go ask NFL talent evaluators. Ask NFL scouts.

“If it’s about the best teams. I have no question that it’s not one of the best four teams – 100%.”

The SEC never has been shut out of final four since the College Football Playoff was implemented in 2014. Commissioner Greg Sankey has been outspokenly in favor of expanding the playoff, and at one time the plan was to do that this season. Conceivably, there could be no SEC team in the semifinals. That could be considered either fitting or ironic a year before a 12-game playoff.

The game here Saturday night felt eerily similar to the 2021 SEC Championship game, which Alabama won 41-24 over the Bulldogs. Georgia was No. 1 in that one, too, while the Tide was third. Both teams would get into the CFP semifinals and eventually met in a rematch a month later in the national championship game in Indianapolis. Georgia won that one 33-18 to claim its first championship in 41 years.

Quarterback Carson Beck summed up the queasiness the Bulldogs are feeling after the game.

“I mean, to go through an SEC schedule, 12 games, and to win each and every one, it’s not easy to do,” Beck said. “Then to come into this game and not finish the way we wanted to and kind of leave the destiny of our team in someone else’s hands, that’s hard. At this point it’s out of our control.”

The Bulldogs have Alabama’s Jalen Milroe to thank for losing control. The Tide’s free-wheeling quarterback added his name to a long list of Bama quarterbacks to have broken the Bulldogs’ hearts in this building. The big third-year sophomore didn’t necessarily overwhelm the Bulldogs either with his legs or his arm, but he did just enough to keep the chains moving and occasionally get his team to the the end zone.

Milroe finished with 29 yards on 14 carries after being sacked twice. But his 30-yard run on Alabama’s final possession late in the fourth quarter effectively put away the game. He was 13-of-23 passing for 192 yards passing the ball with two touchdowns, one to former Bulldog Jermaine Burton.

“With him being as good an athlete he is, it was a real big challenge,” junior linebacker Smael Mondon said. “That last drive, we’ve just got to fit it better.”

Georgia’s defensive cause wasn’t helped playing a fourth consecutive game without All-American linebacker middle Jamon Dumas-Johnson. He was replaced in the lineup by freshman C.J. Allen, who had only two tackles. Third-year sophomore Xavian Sorey played more than he has all season and finished with five tackles.

The Bulldogs also played without key offensive stars who either were out or were playing limited by injuries. With tight end Brock Bowers and flanker Ladd McConkey hobbling off the field at times, Georgia actually outgained the Crimson Tide 321 yards to 306. Beck was 21-of-29 passing, but no TDs.

A turnover, as Smart alluded, ultimately did in the Bulldogs. Georgia had just gotten within a touchdown and had gotten the ball back late in the third quarter when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called a reverse left for wideout Dillon Bell. Beck appeared to have mishandled the exchange deep in the backfield, and Alabama linebacker Trezmen Marshall recovered the ball at the Georgia 11. Marshall, a senior from Homerville, played his first four seasons for Georgia.

The Bulldogs’ defense stood strong, but the 28-yard field goal that followed proved to be the difference in the game.

Another former Bulldog, wide receiver Jermaine Burton, scored one of the Tide’s touchdown. the senior from Calabasas, California (by way of Atlanta), hauled in a 15-yard TD pass 48 seconds before halftime to give his team a 10-point lead. He’d finish two catches for 298 yards.

Where Alabama won the game, though was midway through the fourth quarter. Georgia got a 28-yard punt return from freshman Anthony Evans that set it up at the Alabama 35. With Georgia trailing by 10 with 11:53 to play, it took only five plays – including an interference call on Alabama’s Terrion Arnold -- for the Bulldogs to get into the end zone on Beck keeper.

With only a field goal separating them at that point, the Crimson Tide took the ensuing possession right back down the field. With Milroe connecting on passes of 21, 22, 13 and 11 yards (the 13-yarder was a shoveled-forward third-down conversion), Alabama completed the nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge from Roydell Williams. Milroe was 4-for-4 on the drive, and Georgia was down two scores with 5:47 to play.

Georgia would get back in the end zone eventually, but it took too long. A third crack from the 1-yard line saw Kendall Milton finally get in, but only 2:52 remained. And Milroe, as he proved often on the night, is very good at playing keep-away. “They did a good job there,” Smart said. “We didn’t have quite as much continuity as maybe we’ve had out there. But give Alabama some credit. They played good.”

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