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Forgotten Georgia in thick of championship race

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Forgotten Georgia in thick of championship race

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) When Oregon and Kansas State both went down, Aaron Murray whooped it up as much as any Georgia fan.

He knew what that meant for the Bulldogs - a shot at the national championship.

``I've never screamed so much at the television and prayed so much in my life,'' Georgia's star quarterback said Tuesday. ``It was definitely an exciting night. We were screaming, high-fiving, hugging, group hugs. It was a lot of fun.''

Funny thing, though. Outside of this state, hardly anyone is talking about the Southeastern Conference's other title contender.

Instead, everyone is gushing about the possibility of two storied programs - Notre Dame and Alabama - playing for No. 1.

Georgia, it seems, is just an afterthought.

``We don't mind being the underdogs,'' Murray said. ``We know what we have to do, and that's win games. If we do that, we'll be good to go.''

Indeed, while it may appear the third-ranked Bulldogs are trying to sneak in the back door, they have exactly the same path to the championship as the top-ranked Fighting Irish and second-ranked Crimson Tide.

Win out. Win it all.

For Georgia, it starts with Saturday's regular-season finale against state rival Georgia Tech (6-5). The Bulldogs have won 10 of 11 in the series and are a two-touchdown favorite to extend that domination against the high-scoring Yellow Jackets. Still, coach Mark Richt is working hard to ensure his team doesn't get caught looking ahead to the SEC championship game against Alabama the following week.

He's gone to some rather extreme measures to keep the one-game-at-a-time mentality. Richt refuses to even say whether he was watching last Saturday night when Kansas State got blown out by Baylor and Oregon lost in overtime to Stanford, allowing Georgia to jump to No. 3 in the BCS standings.

If anyone tries to bring up Alabama or the BCS, Richt won't even respond.

``I had to hang up on my mom,'' he said, only half-joking.

Richt insists there's been no discussion with his staff about what might happen beyond the Georgia Tech game, and he said there's no need to remind his players it's business as usual.

``We meet every day to talk about how we're going to handle the week: who we're playing next, what kind of challenges they bring, what we're going to do on a daily basis to get ready for them,'' Richt said. ``That's all we do.''

After Saturday, the picture could be even clearer.

Notre Dame (11-0) is favored by a touchdown against disappointing Southern Cal, which will be further hampered by the absence of star quarterback Matt Barkley. He won't play because of a sprained right shoulder, forcing the Trojans to give freshman Max Wittek his first career start. Alabama (10-1) opened as a 33-point pick over hapless Auburn, which is winless in the SEC and wrapping up its worst season in decades.

If all three favorites win, Notre Dame is assured of a spot in the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in Miami. The SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia (10-1) would essentially serve as a national semifinal.

Of course, nothing is assured in this sport.

Just ask Oregon and Kansas State.

``Not to get negative,'' said Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson, pondering the idea of losing to the Yellow Jackets with so much on the line, ``but it could be horrible. It could be everything we didn't want this season to be about. People would pile on everything negative they could think about us.

``We have an opponent coming here that probably hates us more than any other opponent. And it's probably mutual.''

It's stunning that Georgia (10-1) had clawed its way into this position considering what happened on Oct. 6.

The Bulldogs rolled into South Carolina for a crucial game between two unbeaten teams - and got blown out. They were behind 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and lost 35-7, scoring a meaningless touchdown in the closing minutes just to avoid a shutout.

According to STATS LLC, no team that has finished No. 1 in The Associated Press poll or claimed the Bowl Championship Series title with such a lopsided loss on its record. The worst defeat by a champion came in 1983, when Miami dropped its opener to Florida 28-3 but rebounded to win its last 11 games, including an upset of then-No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia dropped to No. 14 in the AP poll after the debacle in Columbia, which most thought was too far back to have any shot at No. 1. But the Bulldogs bounced back with five straight wins, most notably a 17-9 triumph over Florida, and kept climbing as one unbeaten team after another fell in defeat.

``After South Carolina, especially, we had to take a step back and realize that we can control our future,'' tight end Arthur Lynch said. ``We haven't looked ahead.''

Now, even though the Bulldogs are one of just three teams that controls its own destiny, they're not breaking from the philosophy that has served them well.

So this week, it's all about Georgia Tech.

``No matter what the records are, or what's happening, nothing changes the fact that if we lose to them, it's a living hell for the next 365 days,'' Lynch said. ``It's what fuels me and gets me motivated. If you're not motivated for this game, you probably shouldn't come to Georgia. You always have to beat Tech.''

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Follow Paul Newberry at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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