ATLANTA — Alabama is heading back to the national championship game — by a mere 5 yards.
AJ McCarron threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining, and the No. 2 Crimson Tide barely held off No. 3 Georgia 32-28 in a Southeastern Conference title game for the ages Saturday.
After an apparent game-clinching interception by Alabama was overturned on a video review, Georgia’s Aaron Murray completed a 15-yard pass to Arthur Lynch, a 23-yarder to Tavarres King and a 26-yarder to Lynch, who was hauled down at the Alabama 8 as the clock continued to run.
The Bulldogs were out of timeouts.
Instead of spiking the ball and gathering themselves, the Bulldog snapped the ball with 9 seconds to go. Murray attempted a pass into the corner but it was deflected at the line, winding up in the arms of Chris Conley out in the right flats.
Surprised to get the ball, he slipped down at the 5.
Georgia couldn’t get off another play. Alabama celebrated as confetti fell from the Georgia Dome roof. The Bulldogs collapsed on the field, stunned they had come so close to knocking off the team that has won two of the past three national titles.
The Tide will get a chance to make it three out of four when they face top-ranked Notre Dame for the BCS crown on Jan. 7 in Miami.
“I’m ready to have heart attack here," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
For the Bulldogs (11-2), the consolation prize will likely be a spot in the Capital One Bowl, though they certainly looked like a team fully deserving of a BCS bid. Georgia coach Mark Richt said his team had the play it wanted at the end, but Alabama ruined it by getting a hand on the ball.
“I told the guys I was disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in them," Richt said. “They’re warriors. We had a chance at the end. We just didn’t get it done."
In a back-and-forth second half that looked nothing like a game in the defensive-minded SEC, the Crimson Tide trailed 21-10 after Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Alabama rallied behind a punishing run game, finishing with 350 yards on the ground, an SEC championship game record. Eddie Lacy rumbled for 181 yards on 20 carries, including two TDs. Freshman T.J. Yeldon added 153 yards on 25 carries, also scoring a TD.
But the Tide won it through the air.
With Georgia stacking the line, McCarron fooled the Bulldogs with play action and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to Cooper, who beat Damian Swann in single coverage down the left side.
Georgia played like a champion, too.
The Bulldogs punted the ball back to Alabama with 2:25 left, relying on their defense to finally stop the Tide. Georgia used up its final two timeouts, forced a punt and got the ball back at its 15 with 1:16 remaining.
Alabama broke into a celebration when a pass down the middle for Conley was deflected and Dee Milliner appeared to make a diving interception. But the replay showed the ball hit the ground, so Murray and the Georgia offense trotted back on the field for their last gasp.
And what a gasp it was.
Just not quite enough.
Todd Gurley led Georgia with 122 yards rushing, including a couple of TDs. Murray was 18 of 33 for 265 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
McCarron was 12 of 21 for 162 yards with an interception, just his third of the season.
After the clock had finally run out on Georgia, Richt made one last pitch for a BCS bid.
“Do I think we’re worthy of a BCS bowl?" he said. “Yes I do."
The Bulldogs even got props from Saban.
“It would be a crying shame if Georgia doesn’t get to go to a BCS bowl game," the Alabama coach said. “They played a tremendous game out there. That was a great football game, by both teams. It came right down to the last play."
Also on Saturday:
No. 7 Kansas State 42
No. 23 Texas 24
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Collin Klein threw a touchdown pass and ran for two scores and Kansas State won its third conference title in 117 years and earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. In front of their sixth sellout in seven home games, the Wildcats (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) tied their team record for victories in a season and matched Oklahoma’s Big 12 record. Kansas State has beaten Texas (8-4, 5-4) five in a row. Klein wound up hitting eight of 14 passes for 184 yards and added 108 yards rushing on 23 carries. John Hubert scored three touchdowns.
No. 12 Oklahoma 24
FORT WORTH, Texas — Landry Jones threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns, Damien Williams ran untouched 66 yards for a score and Oklahoma earned a share of the Big 12 title. TCU’s fourth-down pass to the goal-line in the final minute was well-defended and fell incomplete. The Sooners (10-2, 8-1 Big 12) won their eighth consecutive Big 12 game since a late-September loss to Kansas State.
No. 13 Florida State 21
Georgia Tech 15
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — James Wilder Jr. ran for two touchdowns as Florida State captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 2005 and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl. It was Florida State’s 13th ACC title. The heavily favored Seminoles (11-2) built a 21-6 lead at the half and held on to win, helping to erase some of the sting from last week’s 37-26 loss to their bitter rival, No. 4 Florida. Despite its record, Georgia Tech (6-7) is bowl eligible after receiving a waiver from the NCAA on Thursday.
No. 14 Nebraska 31
INDIANAPOLIS — Montee Ball ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and Wisconsin rushed for the 539 yards to win the Big Ten title game. The Badgers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) are the first team to reach the Rose Bowl with five losses, are the first Big Ten team to make it in three straight years since Michigan in the late 1970s. They also tied Texas’ record for most points in a conference championship game. It was a fitting end to a wacky Big Ten season that pitted the Cornhuskers (10-3, 7-1), the Legends Division champ, against the third-place team from the Leaders Division. But Nebraska never had a chance with Ball and his teammates running wild. Melvin Gordon ran for 217 yards and one TD, while James White had 108 yards, four TDs and one TD pass.
No. 24 Oklahoma State 34
WACO, Texas — Lache Seastrunk rushed for 178 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Nick Florence passed for 296 yards for Baylor. Baylor (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) has won at least seven games in three straight seasons — the first time the Bears have done that since 1949-51. Seastrunk’s long scoring run gave Baylor a 41-27 lead with 5:11 left in the game. J.W. Walsh rushed for two touchdowns for Oklahoma State (7-5, 5-4).
No. 25 Boise State 27
RENO, Nev. — Joe Southwick threw two touchdown passes to lead Boise State to a share of the Mountain West Conference title and ensuring the Broncos their nation’s best seventh consecutive 10-win season. D.J. Harper ran for 130 yards for Boise State (10-2, 7-1) and the Broncos’ defense put the clamps on a Nevada offense that was averaging 38 points per game.