With top prize still in play, how will Georgia football respond to another Alabama loss?

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Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith (4) after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Alabama won 41-24.
Georgia outside linebacker Nolan Smith (4) after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Alabama won 41-24.

ATLANTA — There’s three things you don’t do as a Georgia fan: Never bad mouth Herschel Walker, never clip the hallowed hedges and you never, I mean never, get cocky before facing a Nick Saban coached Alabama team.

We’ve seen it too often. No need to roll out the scroll of heartbreaks against the Tide, but when faced with a modicum of doubt with his bunch, Saban is the greatest “challenge accepted” coach that’s ever stepped on the sideline.

Ryne Dennis
Ryne Dennis

And far too many times it comes at the expense of the Bulldogs. Like in 2008 when Georgia broke out the black jerseys, or in 2015 when there was talk that Alabama was slipping and Georgia had a chance to become the elite program in the SEC.

Then came Saturday, when the undefeated and top-ranked Bulldogs, who had unanimously held that spot for eight straight weeks according to the AP poll, were just north of 6-point favorites and most wondered, including this scribe, if the Bulldogs shouldn't be favored by even more.

More: 5 takeaways from Georgia football's loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship game

Alabama’s offense struggled last week against an inferior Auburn team, how on earth could it move the ball against one of the best defenses the college game had seen in a decade?

Saban gladly accepted that challenge and gutted Georgia’s all-world defense, setting SEC Championship game records along the way to a 41-24 rout.

"You guys gave us a lot of positive rat poison this week, that is usually fatal," said Saban after Saturday's game. "The rat poison you gave us this week was yummy."

But there’s a bright light at the end of this one for the woe-is-me Bulldogs: There’s still more to play for. A lot more. A national championship more.

All indications are that the College Football Playoff Committee will have them in the playoffs on Sunday, a position they were going to be in win or lose on Saturday.

More: Stetson Bennett’s ‘mental lapses’ costly in Georgia’s SEC Championship loss to Alabama

They won’t be No. 1, but it doesn’t matter, it’s now a new season.

“It’s not over yet, whatever the committee decides, we know we have a couple games ahead of us,” said receiver Ladd McConkey, appearing in the postgame press conference as if he’d heard those same rumors that they were safe to make the playoffs no matter the outcome. “We just have to put this one in the past, fix our mistakes and go from there.”

Georgia’s current situation recalls memories of 2017, when the Bulldogs were taken to the woodshed at Auburn. You remember, when the Tigers' former coach Gus Malzahn happened to utter "we kicked the dog crap out of them" on the field after the game.

When facing the Tigers in the SEC Championship game, Georgia returned the favor and took that momentum all the way to the national title game and a 2nd and 26 play that … well, we all know the story, and it involved this same bunch of Saban-led Tide.

More: Twitter reacts to Georgia football coach Kirby Smart's performance against Alabama

But that play was the finale, the end, there were no more chances, no possibility of regrouping and watching film and playing with that chip on the shoulder that motivated the Bulldogs in that second matchup against Auburn that season.

Sure, Saturday was a dud of a game for the best Georgia team in 40 years, but in just over a month it could be just a blip on the radar for these Bulldogs.

Said Nolan Smith, “If it don’t hurt you, and you don’t feel the pain of not holding the trophy and getting a ring from this then you shouldn’t be on our team. That drives you all the more. Losing this game, and coach Smart said it the best, is a wakeup call.”

As the playoff selections come down on Sunday, it will now be these Bulldogs and their once-revered defense that will be doubted.

We’ll see if they'll accept the challenge.

Ryne Dennis is the sports editor of the Athens Banner-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @RyneDennis or reach him at rdennis@onlineathens.com

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: How will Georgia football respond to SEC Championship loss to Alabama?

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