Alabama and Georgia play Saturday in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship — and a berth in the Jan. 7 BCS Championship Game against unbeaten Notre Dame.

NEW YORK — Two years before the playoffs start in college football, the Southeastern Conference is staging a virtual national semifinal to determine who plays Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game.

Alabama was second and Georgia third in the BCS standings released Sunday. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, both 11-1, play Saturday in Atlanta for the SEC championship.

The SEC winner will advance to the BCS title game Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla., against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (12-0) secured their spot Saturday with a 22-13 victory at USC.

“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.”

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

Alabama is listed as a 7 ½-point favorite by Nevada oddsmakers.

Florida (11-1) is fourth in the BCS standings, but with no games left looks stuck behind its SEC rivals.

There is speculation the Gators will get an at-large BCS bid to play in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

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 after the 2014 regular season.

Notre Dame completed its first unbeaten regular season since 1988, which is also the last national-championship season for the school that has produced a legion of the sport’s most memorable figures: Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen, Paul Hornung, Joe Montana — heck, even Rudy Ruettiger.

“This is where you want to be when you go to Notre Dame,” Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o said.

Chizik is among

5 fired coaches

Gene Chizik of Auburn, Frank Spaziani of Boston College and Danny Hope of Purdue got news many expected was coming. All were fired after disappointing seasons.

North Carolina State getting rid of Tom O’Brien took more than a few people off guard, as did Colorado letting Jon Embree go after two seasons.

Five coaches lost their jobs Sunday to bring the total openings in the Football Bowl Subdivision to 12 — including four in the SEC.

Chizik was fired after a dramatic decline. He coached Auburn, featuring quarterback Cam Newton, to the second national championship in program history in the 2010 season.

This season, Auburn finished 3-9, did not win an SEC game and lost Saturday’s Iron Bowl 49-0 to rival Alabama.

Auburn’s decision came 17 months after it gave Chizik a contract worth about $3.5 million annually through 2015, with a buyout of $7.5 million.

Chizik was 33-19 in four seasons, 15-17 in the SEC.

Embree’s Colorado team went 1-11 this season — its only victory was a 35-34 decision at Washington State on Sept. 22 — and he was 4-21 in two seasons after replacing Dan Hawkins.

Embree had three years left on a five-year contract he signed in December 2010.

After Embree met with players, quarterback Jordan Webb said, “We all really liked Coach Embree a lot. And he loved us, also.”

BCS standings
Team (last week) Avg.
1. Notre Dame (1) .9979
2. Alabama (2) .9236
3. Georgia (3) .8911
4. Florida (4) .8882
5. Oregon (5) .8626
6. Kansas St. (6) .7735
7. Louisiana St. (7) .7357
8. Stanford (8) .7299
9. Texas A&M (9) .6861
10. South Carolina (12) .6689
11. Oklahoma (13) .6129
12. Nebraska (14) .5393
13. Florida St. (10) .4645
14. Clemson (11) .4570
15. Oregon St. (15) .3790
16. UCLA (17) .3304
17. Kent St. (23) .2512
18. Texas (16) .2492
19. Michigan (19) .2094
20. Boise St. (22) .2030
21. Northern Illinois (NR) .1936
22. Northwestern (NR) .1865
23. Oklahoma St. (21) .1646
24. Utah St. (NR) .1171
25. San Jose St. (NR) .0974
BCS Average is calculated by averaging the percent totals of the Harris Interactive and USA Today coaches polls and computer rankings