Alabama and Georgia play tonight for the National Championship in Atlanta, where Bama started the season with a 24-7 win over Florida State in what, at the time, many were calling the best opening game match up of all time.
The two SEC rivals have not played since 2015, a 38-10 win for Alabama in Athens. The game was the last time, and only time in their last 113 games (including tonight’s title bout) that the Crimson Tide were not favored.
Alabama is seeking their fifth national championship in the last nine years and 17th overall while Georgia seeks their first title since 1980, a win that, coincidentally, snapped back-to-back title wins from Bama in 1978 and 1979.
Crimson Tide players swear they continue to be motivated by a loss, on the last snap, to Clemson in last season’s title game, robbing Bama of back-to-back titles. They avenged the loss by physically mauling the top-ranked Tigers in the semifinals, and now are intent of completing their mission by beating up an old conference rival.
The All-SEC meeting will doubtless draw fewer viewers than any other possible match up considering the four semifinalists. The SEC haters have reason to grumble in their jealousy — the conference will win their 11th title in the last 20 and 10th of the last 13 regardless of victor, and SEC teams have been on the losing side of three (and soon, four) such contests. The Big Ten is 2-2 in title games in the same stretch.
Georgia’s two-headed running attack of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is deadly and rightly respected but is not going to do to Alabama what they did to Oklahoma. Alabama has held 49 opponents under 200 total yards of offense since 2007; TCU is second nationally with 29 such efforts, and the Tide has allowed only eight (8!) 100-yard rushers in that span. The Tide defense has also allowed only 31 runs of 10-plus yards through 13 games.
The Bulldogs also boast talented true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who may be called upon to lead his team to the win. He will have chances to hit deep passes on the outside, as Bama will, barring the highly unforeseen, leave their corner backs on islands. The pickings are there — but only if the passes are perfect, and that means, at a minimum, having the time to get such passes off.
The Alabama offense features the most disrespected player in America in sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts. All Hurts has done in two years is lead the Tide to a 26-2 mark and two title games, and were it not for Deshaun Watson heroics, Hurts’ TD scramble in the waning minutes would have delivered the crown to the Tide last year, a moment often overlooked.
Bama features running backs Damien Harris and bruiser Bo Scarborough, along with Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris — all four or five-star speedsters. Toss in the danger Hurts presents, and the opposing running games are a wash.
Calvin Ridley is the successor of Amari Cooper Julio Jones as the next top-10 draftee at wide out, while secondary freak Minkah Fitzpatrick will be a top-5 pick.
While Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith will cause all sorts of trouble, and the Bulldog defense is, overall, the sixth-best in the country, they are not at the same level as the Tide, especially now that several key players have returned from injury. Bama is still banged up, but is playing with a chip on their shoulders and leads the nation in most key defensive categories.
The kicking game edge definitely goes to Georgia, but punter J.K. Scott is a great weapon for the Tide and is often crucial in the field-position style of combat Bama coach Nick Saban prefers.
Former Saban assistant Kirby Smart will try to snap the 0-11 record of ex-assistants in trying to knock off the Bama headmaster. Smart has recruited well and has Georgia ahead of schedule, but this is Bama’s neighborhood, and the Bulldogs will need breaks to pull the upset.
Georgia will be trying to do what no one has done since Stephen Garcia and South Carolina played the games of their lives in 2010 — line up without a dual-threat quarterback and out-physical Alabama in a smash-mouth scrum.
The Bulldogs should be able to move the ball, but long marches up and down the field is something the Tide allows no one to succeed at. Georgia will need a Bama turnover or two, and at least two or three big down-the-field plays to find success.
Alabama’s game plan is as simple as it is as maddening to stop: Run the ball, throw short passes and occasional play-action and use field position. Eventually turn an enemy mistake or two into points, then strangle the life and will to compete from the opponent.
If Bama grabs a lead of more than 12 points the game will be over — the suffocating defense will choke the life from Georgia, leading to the kind of conservative, slow death that will thrill the Tide faithful while television sets turn off across the country.
Neither team should panic as this physical back-and-forth mauling will likely not be settled until deep in the fourth quarter, where the greater depth, better coaching and deeper talent in crimson will prevail … ALABAMA 31-20.