They seemed on a collision course for Atlanta that was derailed, but we'll be getting Georgia vs. Alabama after all ... only it's for a national championship and not an SEC one.
The No. 4 Crimson Tide -- a team that may believed shouldn't have been in the College Football Playoff to begin with -- took down top-ranked and defending champ Clemson in the Sugar Bowl 24-6 Monday night. That after No. 3 Georgia won a double-overtime instant classic in the Rose Bowl 54-48 over No. 2 Oklahoma.
Suddenly, the SEC has the ultimate stage of the college football universe all to itself, and it will be waged in the conference's backyard in shiny, new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The conference was in a bad way in dropping five of its first seven bowl games, including New Year's Day defeats as No. 12 UCF completed its undefeated season at the hands of seventh-ranked Auburn and No. 14 Notre Dame rallied to take down No. 16 LSU.
But the Bulldogs, down by 21-7 to Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the Sooners turned it into an epic behind the running of Sony Michel (181 yards and three TDs) and Nick Chubb (145 yards, two TDs). Michel burst through in the second overtime for a 27-yard score to Georgia one step closer to its first title since 1980.
Meanwhile, in the third straight meeting of Alabama and Clemson -- the first that wasn't for a championship, but instead the right to play for one -- the Crimson Tide completely dominated.
A defense that came producing 15 TDs since 2015 added another when Mack Wilson returned a Kelly Bryant interception 18 yards for a score, that coming seconds after Bryant's first pick was returned 21 yards by Da'Ron Payne (his first career pick).
For good measure, the 6-foot-2, 308-pound lineman came in on offense and ran it in from a yard out.
The final weekend before the selection committee set the pairings for the Rose and Sugar Bowls, the debate centered around whether Big Ten champion Ohio State or the one-loss Tide, who didn't win their own division -- let alone a conference title -- should make the field of four.
What the Buckeyes did in shellacking eighth-ranked USC and potential No. 1 pick Sam Darnold in the Cotton Bowl 24-7 was impressive, but the Crimson Tide completely took the Tigers out of their game.
The nation's fifth-ranked defense, which allowed 277.9 yards per game coming in and hadn't given up more than 229 since Oct. 4, yielded 259.
Kirby LeeKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
But it was the return of Alabama linebackers Wilson, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis that helped add the biggest punch. The front seven, led by Anfernee Jennings sacked Bryant five times and the Tigers averaged just 1.9 yards per rush in totaling 64 on the ground to go with 124 passing. That 188 total yards was a season low by Clemson by nearly 100 yards.
Jennings left in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury and his status will be worth monitoring over the next week, but that overall defensive performance is what will make next Monday night in Atlanta so intriguing (along with the made-for-TV master/apprentice clash of Alabama's Nick Saban and his former defensive coordinator, Georgia's Kirby Smart). It's the strength of the Bulldogs running game against a stingy and healthy Alabama defense.
That group's health was a question largely answered, as was a steady night from Tide QB Jalen Hurts (120 yards passing for two TDs and 40 yards rushing) along whether Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs could play from behind, as they came back from 17 down, the largest deficit in Rose Bowl history.
Stephen LewStephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
We thought we would get the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs back in December before Auburn spoiled that in claiming the SEC West. Now it's happening, but for a much bigger prize, and in reality, it's the only way it could have happened.
If Alabama and Georgia met for the SEC crown, a second loss would have made the loser a difficult pick for the playoff. Instead, it may been the Buckeyes that would have claimed that final spot. But the committee went with the Tide believing in the eye test and the body of work.
They were validated with Alabama overwhelming Clemson. Now, following the Crimson Tide and LSU in the 2012 BCS Championship Game in New Orleans, for the second time in seven years, it's an all-SEC party in the South for the title.
It will be Saban's sixth title game in nine seasons as he seeks a fifth crown (one behind Bear Bryant), and Smart looking to end three and a half decades of frustration for Bulldogs faithful, who have waited for a championship since the days of Herschel Walker. Add in the wrinkle that Saban is 11-0 vs. his former assistants, winning every time by 14 or more points, and it's incredibly juicy.
Those storylines will loom large. But the overarching and undeniable one will be this conference, in a season when we wondered whether it was deserving of two playoff teams, seizing the spotlight all to its own, and in the SEC's backyard, no less.