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SEC championship shapes up as de facto national semifinal

NEW YORK – Two years before the playoffs start in college football, the Southeastern Conference is staging a semifinal to determine who plays Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

Alabama (.9236) was second and Georgia (.8911) third in the BCS standings released Sunday. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs play Saturday in Atlanta for the SEC championship.

The winner will advance to the national championship game in Miami on Jan. 7 against the Fighting Irish (.9979), who locked up their spot Saturday with a 22-13 victory against Southern California.

“If you think about what the game means, this that and the other, it doesn’t really help you win the game,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle. That’s what you’ve got to do.”

Florida (.8882) is fourth in the standings, but with no games left, looks stuck behind their SEC rivals. The good news for the Gators is they are likely to get an at-large BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl, while the SEC runner-up is out of the big games all together.

“For either one of these teams, it’s not really a great scenario,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

One way or another, the SEC will get a shot at its seventh straight BCS championship.

The Bowl Championship Series is in its second-to-last season. It will be replaced by a four-team playoff in 2014.

While the race for the BCS title game is now fairly straight forward heading into championship weekend in college football, there’s some intrigue to watch for involving potential BCS busters.

The team that could be hurt most if a BCS buster emerges is Oklahoma. The Sooners are sitting 11th in the standings with a game left against TCU. With another victory, they would seem to be in good shape to get into the BCS even if Kansas State clinches the Big 12 by beating Texas.

But that at-large spot could get gobbled up by a BCS buster.

Other BCS automatic bids will be determined this weekend in the Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference.

UCLA plays at Stanford in the Pac-12 title game with the winner going to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin and Nebraska will play for the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl berth.

Florida State and Georgia Tech play for the ACC title and a spot in the Orange Bowl.

Oregon is fifth in the latest standings, and like Florida, done with its regular season and in good shape to receive an at-large BCS bid.

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