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Don't like Georgia? Hate the Crimson Tide? Fans say it doesn't matter

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Tennessee fan Matt Grimes, far right, plays an SEC trivia game at FanFare on Friday. Grimes was one of many fans in Atlanta representing a team that didn't qualify for the game. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN) Tennessee fan Matt Grimes, far right, plays an SEC trivia game at FanFare on Friday. Grimes was one of many fans in Atlanta representing a team that didn't qualify for the game. (Source: Brian Tynes/RNN)
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(RNN) – Tennessee did not earn a shot at the SEC championship this season, but it didn't keep one Volunteers fan from defending his team's honor.

Matt Grimes, a Tennessee fan from Covington, GA, was at SEC FanFare on Friday afternoon in Atlanta and beat fans of Alabama and Georgia at a trivia contest. Grimes said he's been to every SEC championship game since 2005 regardless of who plays in it.

"Every year we come here with the family," Grimes said. "I don't really care who wins. I think they'll both beat Notre Dame."

Alabama (11-1, 7-1) and Georgia (11-1, 7-1) play Saturday for the SEC championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, with the winner expected to face Notre Dame for the BCS national championship.

Grimes' sentiment was echoed by several other fans who displayed support for teams not in Atlanta. Most of them saw the SEC championship game not as a de facto national semifinal, but as the national championship itself, and gave the Fighting Irish (12-0) little chance to beat whoever comes out on top Saturday.

Randy Blanchard is an LSU fan from Columbus, GA, who's been to the game each of the last five years. He's seen LSU win the game, but this year is pulling for Georgia. If the Crimson Tide win, he won't be excited about the national title game.

"I probably won't watch it," Blanchard said. "Alabama and Georgia both will beat Notre Dame. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, South Carolina all beat Notre Dame."

The confidence expressed by fans across the conference grates on those from elsewhere in the nation, but the lofty view of self-worth among SEC faithful is justified. The conference has won each of the last six BCS national championships.

And no matter what happens in the coming month, no other conference has the chance to change that, because Notre Dame doesn't have a conference affiliation.

The SEC put two teams in the BCS championship game last season, and nearly did it again this year. Florida is ranked No. 4 in the BCS, would have likely earned a title game berth had Notre Dame lost to Southern California last week and was the most well represented team in Atlanta outside the two competitors.

"I can't root for Georgia," said Sean Rowe, a Florida fan who lives in Atlanta.

Rowe comes to the FanFare every year, but sells his tickets when Florida isn't playing. This year he parted with two tickets for $500 each.

"It's always an Alabama fan, too," Rowe said. "Their alumni base must just be everywhere. They always buy them. Every time."

Like a lot of Florida fans, Rowe lamented the heartbreaking season his team had and how difficult it will be to enjoy the postseason knowing how close the Gators came to the national championship.

"No matter who wins, either one will truck Notre Dame," Rowe said. "On the offensive line and defensive line and even the skill positions, they're both just better than Notre Dame."

No Irish fans were spotted in Atlanta, though several SEC teams, including Kentucky, had at least a marginal presence.

Ten Tennessee fans from one family alone walked around playing games and enjoying the atmosphere, even if their bright orange wardrobes clashed against the surrounding sea of red.

"We enjoy it as a family no matter what," said Chet Carbaugh, the patriarch of the orange-clad crew, while wearing a No. 10 Vols jersey. "We're from Knoxville, and we come every year. If Tennessee isn't playing , we go to the aquarium or a museum or something else like that. It's a yearly vacation."

If it all seems a little odd, you're not familiar with how SEC fans treat each other. While the season is bitter and hotly contested, the postseason is largely a time to rally around each other and assert mutual dominance over whoever stands in the way.

Even the bitterest of rivals can put their hatred aside in the postseason.

"You root for the SEC no matter what," said Mark Lynn, an Auburn fan from Pensacola, FL. "I have a lot of people in my family who like Alabama, so I guess I have to go with them. Alabama is just a better team. They'll beat Notre Dame."

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