Imagine being so dominant in college football that you had no idea how your players would respond to a tie game midway through the fourth quarter.
The No. 1 Bulldogs (12-0) and the No. 4 Crimson Tide (11-1) will vie this Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game from two very different competitive directions. Georgia steamrolled all eight of its league opponents by the average score of 40-8 during the regular season, with a 30-13 thumping of Kentucky on Oct. 16 representing the closest call.
The Wildcats scored with four seconds remaining to account for the 17-point difference.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart admitted Sunday that he didn't know what would occur in such a precarious moment, but he doesn't believe his program has suffered this season from the lack of significant in-game adversity.
"I think you have to find that out," Smart said. "The team that we're coaching out here every day has been through some adversity, I can assure you that. We make for adverse situations every day in practice, and we challenge them each and every day. They go against each other every day, and we ask our guys to play like there is no scoreboard.
"If you play like there is no scoreboard, what does it matter whether you've been in one of those situations or not? If they truly compete like every play is independent of the previous one, then you feel good about the way they compete. If they don't and relax, then they're not who we think they are."
Alabama ravaged through the SEC's 10-game regular season a year ago with only the 63-48 win at Ole Miss harboring any intrigue given that the Crimson Tide and Rebels were deadlocked 42-42 early in the fourth quarter. Florida played the Tide to within 52-46 in last December's league championship game, but close calls have been the norm this season.
Of the Tide's eight SEC games that yielded a 7-1 mark, five were decided by a touchdown or less, including Saturday's 24-22 topping of Auburn in four overtimes. Alabama fell behind Auburn by double digits and trailed at Texas A&M by double digits last month in its lone loss, and all three previous meetings against Georgia in Atlanta resulted in Alabama coming back from double-digit deficits.
"The players have to have the right mindset to keep playing — to play the next play and to try to win the next play," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Sunday about playing catch-up. "You want to keep your poise and make the adjustments that we need to make and just keep playing the next play. You don't want to look at the scoreboard or think, 'I'm going to play different when I'm 14 points behind.'
"You should try to do the best you can in every scenario and just keep playing the next play."
Of course, falling behind by multiple scores against this Georgia team and trying to rally isn't exactly a script Saban wants to follow.
"Sometimes when things have gone poorly for us, players have responded very well," Saban said, "but sometimes you create your own adversity by not executing or by making mental errors. It's great to have the resiliency to overcome it, but you would like to be able to sustain with consistency so you don't get in those situations."
Several days before this season kicked off, Texas A&M was No. 6 in the Associated Press poll — one spot behind Georgia — and the university announced that Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher had agreed to a four-year extension and a raise to $9 million annually. That new 10-year deal begins Jan. 1, 2022.
The Aggies managed to hand Alabama its lone loss on Oct. 9, but their disappointing 8-4 regular season concluded Saturday night with a 27-24 loss at LSU, and the fun with numbers began:
— Fisher's 34-14 record through four seasons matches the 48-game starting mark of predecessor Kevin Sumlin, who was eventually fired.
— Fisher's 34-14 record almost matches the 36-14 mark Ed Orgeron compiled his last four seasons at LSU. Orgeron, who guided the Tigers to the 2019 season's national championship, announced Saturday night that offensive line coach Brad Davis would serve as interim bowl coach if LSU receives an invitation.
— Fisher's 34-14 record is almost identical to the 34-15 mark that Dan Mullen compiled at Florida before his firing on Nov. 21, with Mullen having been to three New Year's Six bowls to Fisher's one.
— Then there is the stinger of Fisher's impending $9 million salary tripling the $3 million Sam Pittman made at Arkansas this season, though Pittman is receiving an extra $750,000 for leading the Razorbacks to eight wins. When their teams collided in late September, Pittman's Hogs prevailed 20-10.
The four SEC versus Atlantic Coast Conference matchups Saturday weren't exactly thrillers, with only Florida's 24-21 topping of Florida State having any drama.
Georgia's 45-0 trampling of Georgia Tech came as no surprise, but Kentucky's 52-21 road rout of Louisville and South Carolina's 30-0 home loss to Clemson transpired by wider margins than expected. The stability king known as Mark Stoops not only wrapped up a second 9-3 regular season for his Wildcats in four years but now owns three straight wins over the Cardinals by at least 31 points.
"It feels really good to put it all together," Stoops said in his news conference. "We've had moments this year when we've really shined on either offense, defense or special teams, and to put it all together in a big night for the Governor's Cup against a rival to end the season feels really good.
"Our players have worked really hard and have overachieved all season."
South Carolina first-year coach Shane Beamer wasn't quite as joyous as the Gamecocks lost their seventh straight series meeting, with the past five by at least three touchdowns.
"I want to apologize to our fans for that performance," Beamer said. "It starts with me as a head coach. Our fans were awesome tonight, and I'm sorry we didn't play better for you."
The SEC has set a record this season by producing 13 bowl-eligible teams, with only the 2-10 Vanderbilt Commodores definitely staying home for the holidays. ... Auburn has now gone two consecutive years without at least an eight-win season for the first time since transitioning from Terry Bowden to Tommy Tuberville in 1998-99. ... Orgeron late Saturday night when asked if he had left LSU's program better than he found it: "I'm not going to answer that."