ATLANTA — Four years into the new College Football Playoff (CFP) system that has graced the wonderful game of NCAA football and the Alabama Crimson Tide are making their third appearance in the Championship game in as many years. Say what you want about the Crimson Tide, they are one scary team, simply based on their depth and quality of player.
On the evening of Monday, January 8th, the Alabama Crimson Tide are set to battle with their SEC counterparts, the Georgia Bulldogs. The #3 ranked Bulldogs are the underdogs in this game, insert whatever puns you wish here, but with the game being played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, a mere hour and half away from University of Georgia in Athens, GA., they will look to harness every bit of this quasi-home game to their advantage. While the Crimson Tide seem to make it to the national title game ever year, the Georgia Bulldogs are making their first title game appearance since 1983, where they lost to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. The last time UGA won a national title was in 1980 when they defeated Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Road to the Natty – The CFP Semi-Finals
The Crimson Tide found their way into this game by making quick and easy work of the country’s top team, the Clemson Tigers in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. They completely dominated the Tigers in every facet of the game right from the get go as they earned the 24-6 win and a spot in the final for the third year in a row. The Bulldogs, however, played in what was arguably the best game of the year, the Rose Bowl. The Dawgs took on QB Baker Mayfield and the #2 Oklahoma Sooners in a wild overtime thriller, which say UGA fight back from being down 31-17 to claim the 54-48 victory and punch their ticket to the big game.
This game is being met with a lot of consternation from the college football faithful, as they aren’t happy with an all-SEC matchup. So much talk has been about TV ratings and how this game is forecasted to reach new lows for a national championship game because of the matchup. However, as a major fan of the game, I truly think that these are the two best and most balanced teams and it’s great that they’re meeting in the final. It’s tough to think that this game will live up to the Rose Bowl, but these are the two best teams meeting in the final and that’s what it’s all about, if you ask me.
Both of these teams have a lot of similarities and one can argue that they’re mirror images of each other. Both teams feature powerful and agile running backs that can change the game. Big play wide receivers, a tenacious defensive front seven and a poised QB with ice coursing through their veins. But, it doesn’t end there, both teams have familiar faces on the sidelines as well. Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart was a former staff of current Alabama HC, Nick Saban. Smart worked with Saban in 2004 at LSU as their DB Coach, in 2006 with the Miami Dolphins (NFL) as their Safeties Coach and again from 2007 – 2015 at Alabama as their AHC/Defensive Coordinator. Needless to say, Smart knows Saban very well and understands his coaching style and tendencies. An interesting storyline here is that this game marks the 12th time that Nick Saban will go up against one of his former staffers. Saban is currently 11-0 and will be looking to make it a perfect dozen wins on Monday night.
As I have previously alluded to, both of these teams are very similar in their make-up, as two prominent SEC teams would be. They can run the ball effectively, defend effectively and at times, struggle in their passing game. Led by sophomore QB, Jalen Hurts, the Crimson Tide rank 27th in the country in terms of overall offensive production. 10th in rushing offensive, averaging 255 yards per game and 91st in pass offense, averaging 193 yards per game. They have a stable of three running backs in Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris that all bring different traits to their ground game. They all compliment the running game of their QB Hurts as well, who has over 800 yards to his name this season. They live and die by the run but they do have a game-changing receiver in Junior, Calvin Ridley. He is the cream of the crop among a very young Alabama receiving core. The Tide rank 1st in the nation in overall defense. They have the top ranked run defense, allowing an average of 91 yards a game and they rank 3rd in pass defense as they tend to hold opposing offenses to an average of 160 yards a game.
On the flip side, the Georgia Bulldogs rank 31st in the country in total offensive production. 8th in the country in rushing, averaging 267 yards per game and a mere 110th in the country in passing, averaging 172 yards per game. It’s no surprise they rank so high in rushing offense because they, like Alabama, feature a three-headed rushing attack, led by two senior running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, rounded off by freshman D’Andre Swift. This season means a lot to RBs Chubb and Michel. They are both seniors and were set to go into the NFL draft after last season, but decided to come back for a final season to put their bodies on the line in order to help the Bulldogs win a National Title. I can get on board with that level of dedication. The Bulldogs are led by Freshman QB Jake Fromm, a Georgia native, who stepped up to the plate after QB sophomore, Jacob Eason went down in game one with and injury and never looked back. He is as composed as any QB out there, which is shocking for a freshman QB at a power-five school. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs rank 6th in the nation in total defense. They rank 20th in run defense, allow an average of 120 yards per game and 8th in pass defense, allowing an average of 167 yards per game.
Matchup and Prediction
Both team can run the ball and defend against the run, that’s clear. Alabama has always been known for putting together tremendous defensive units and this year is no different. Standouts such as Ronnie Harrison, Rashaan Evans, Raekwon Davis, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Hootie Jones and Daron Payne, just to name a few, are all NFL calibre players. Alabama’s defensive line, anchored by Payne, is one to be feared, as we saw in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson where they dominated in the trenches. We cannot overlook Georgia when it comes to their defensive front- seven, as they have a ton of talent and experience, especially at the linebacker position. They are led by Junior LB and future NFL player, Roquan Smith and complimented by standouts such as Lorenzo Carter, J.R. Reed, DeAndre Baker, Aaron David, Dominick Sanders, D’Andre Walker, Davin Bellamy, just to name a few. This is an experienced defense that is healthy and primed to win it all. But, can they go toe to toe with the best defensive athletes in the country? That is the biggest question.
Though Alabama still has plenty of talented contributors on the defensive side of the ball, they are without several starters and standout players on defense, and are particularly thin at inside linebacker. The Tide will be without Dylan Moses, Anfernee Jennings, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Lester Cotton, four massive contributors that will surely be missed against the Bulldogs.
To me, this game is all about the line of scrimmage. The team that can dominate in the trenches and really set the edge should win this game. Alabama was able to man-handle Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in all phases of the game. However, I don’t think Clemson had the same calibre of offensive weapons that The Bulldogs have and I think that UGA has more technically gifted offensive players that can give The Tide a lot more trouble. Both of these teams are mistake-averse football teams that are well coached and well disciplined. This game could very well come down to a turnover of any kind that can give the opposing team the advantage. If we see the same Alabama team dominate the line of scrimmage again, they will own this game and claim another National Title under Nick Saban. However, if they have to get into a shootout with the Bulldogs, which is unlikely due to the nature of their defenses, they are not equipped for that, both at QB and WR.
The safe pick here is Alabama. They are favoured, extremely talented, well-coached, bigger-faster-stronger than the rest, and most of all motivated as heck to win after last year’s loss. Most of the time leading up to this game I was leaning toward Alabama. However, I’m going to pick The Dawgs! ‘The under-Dawgs’! I think that former UGA defensive back and current head coach Kirby Smart will have his boys ready for this one. They have a lot of skill and experience on both sides of the ball, at every position and are far healthier in important positions than Alabama and I think that’ll work in their favour. This may be their perfect shot at the National Title. They are facing a skilled but injured Alabama team but are ready to go toe to toe with them, armed with probably the best Georgia team I’ve ever seen.
Final Score: Georgia Bulldogs 31 – Alabama Crimson Tide 23