For the first time in seven seasons, we have an all-SEC matchup for college football’s national championship game. The #4 seed Alabama Crimson Tide and #3 seed Georgia Bulldogs will face off Monday night, January 8th at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to decide the fourth College Football Playoff winner. Let’s get into the National Championship Game Preview.
Georgia Beats Oklahoma 54-48 in Epic Rose Bowl
The Bulldogs are coming off an epic battle against #2 Oklahoma, outlasting the Sooners and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Baker Mayfield in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl game ever, 54-48. Senior running back Sony Michel’s 27-yard TD run in the second overtime sealed the deal for UGA shortly after the ‘Dawgs blocked an Oklahoma field goal attempt. It was a sort of redemption for Michel, one of Georgia’s leaders, after his 4th quarter fumble was returned by OU for a touchdown that gave the Sooners the lead. Michel and fellow running back Nick Chubb, considered the best running back tandem in the country, combined for 326 yards on just 25 carries and six total touchdowns (five rushing) carry Georgia into the title game, where they’ll be playing just 70 miles from their campus in Athens.
There wasn’t nearly as much drama for Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide dominated the second half against #1 seeded Clemson in the third consecutive CFP meeting between the two teams, 24-6. With points at a premium, the turning point of the game came from the Tide’s defense in the third quarter. Nose tackle Da’Ron Payne intercepted a Kelly Bryant pass and returned it for 21 yards, and picked up 15 more yards after he was brought down by a horse-collar tackle. A few plays later, the big defensive lineman (later named defensive MVP) caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from QB Jalen Hurts to cap off a drive he will never forget, putting Alabama up double-digits in the process. Alabama would return a pick-six just 13 seconds later to turn the game into a blowout. Despite all the injuries on the Alabama side (especially at linebacker), Clemson simply could not figure out the Tide’s defense, and that was the difference.
Alabama Handles Clemson Easily In Part III 24-6
As a result, we have what should be an epic battle featuring two SEC powerhouses, and two of the best & most talented defensive units in all of college football. It is also a matchup of longtime Alabama assistant Kirby Smart, now in his second season as head coach of Georgia, and Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is looking to tie Alabama legend Bear Bryant for a record sixth national championship. The Crimson Tide’s first priority will likely be stopping Georgia’s running attack and making true freshman QB Jake Fromm beat them through the air. But Fromm has shown signs of greatness at times, and has stepped up when his team needed it. A big key: can Alabama’s offense, which was mediocre against Clemson, protect Jalen Hurts from Georgia’s terrific front seven? Bulldogs linebacker (and Butkus award winner) Roquan Smith will have a lot of say in that.
In major title games like this though, especially when the two teams are as evenly matched as these two, it often comes down to intangibles like experience and leadership. While Georgia does have a veteran group, Alabama has been in the CFP every year. It’s also noteworthy that Nick Saban is 11-0 against his former assistants. As outstanding of a job that Kirby Smart has done bringing back UGA to prominence, I just can’t put myself to bet against arguably one of the greatest coaches to ever do it.