In the dark days before we had the enlightened BCS to decide who was the champion of college football, there were many season finales that pitted a potential champion against an opponent who had no prayer of winning the championship and could only play spoiler.
On January 1, 1981 the then top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs went into the Sugar Bowl matched up against the No.7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Despite Georgia being undefeated and ranked No.1, the Irish were still favored in the game, as many thought Georgia had luckily survived an easier schedule than Notre Dame. Georgia had clawed their way up No.1 in the polls with each hard-fought victory.
Notre Dame had moved up to the No.1 spot in the polls heading into their week 8 match-up against Georgia Tech. But the Yellow Jackets pulled the upset of the year, and fought the Irish to a 3-3 tie in Atlanta. After fighting their way back up to No.2 again, the Golden Domes were blown out in the L.A. Coliseum 20-3 by USC. The loss plummeted the Irish to No.7 in the polls, lifting the Florida State Seminoles to No.2
But there would be no Georgia-Florida State match to decide the championship. Conference ties in bowl games, and other NCAA bureaucracy would give us Georgia and Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, while Florida State would face the No.4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
No.1 vs No.7 and No.2 vs. No.4.
Sure sounds like a convoluted way of deciding who the champ is. Despite all the warts on the BCS system, if nothing else it has pitted the two top teams in the country against each other to settle it on the field rather than in the votes.
Now Notre Dame sits atop the BCS rankings, presumably awaiting the winner of the SEC Championship game between No.2 Alabama and No.3 Georgia. Who said we don’t have a playoff semi-final? The last couple of years, the SEC Championship game has become exactly that.
If Georgia were to come out of Atlanta with the victory over what will probably be a favored Crimson Tide team, then they would head to Miami to face the Irish for all the marbles once again.
In 1981, Georgia brought in freshman sensation running back Herschel Walker, surrounded by a cast of relatively undersized and unknown teammates. Many felt like Georgia had escaped playing the tougher opponents in the SEC, and had more than their share of luck to win a few games. In the eyes of those in the know, if Notre Dame could stop Herschel, they could stop Georgia.
The 1980 Fighting Irish came in boasting one of the nations toughest schedules, and an even tougher defense. Despite the loss to USC and the non-win against Georgia Tech, victories over four ranked teams, including Alabama, made most believe that the Bulldogs were out-manned by the Irish.
In 2012, Notre Dame’s defense has once again carried them to the cusp of glory, with senior linebacker Manti Te’o leading the charge and becoming one of the best stories of the season. Georgia is dependent on the legs of freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, or “Gurshall”, and, just like 32 years ago, the questions about Georgia’s luck in the scheduling has raised doubts about their legitimacy.
In 1981, Georgia beat Notre Dame 17-10 despite Herschel Walker playing with a dislocated shoulder suffered in the first quarter of the game. The victory kept split-poll chaos from ruling the land in naming a national champion. One thing is for sure, if the Irish and Bulldogs get to meet again in Janurary, both of them will be in line for the championship.