Happy championship Monday, everyone. For the third straight season we get to simultaneously celebrate Alabama’s appearance in the title game and lament the sobering reality that college football is about to go away for eight long months.
Hope for the best.
Unlike last week, most are actually picking the Tide to win this week, which is good or bad depending on your perspective. Your previews:
Starting right guard Lester Cotton and linebacker Anfernee Jennings have been ruled out for Monday’s game, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming back from a kidney injury suffered last week against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
The Alabama injuries haven’t slowed down the money on the Crimson Tide, though.
”Last week, they wouldn’t stop betting Clemson,” said Ed Salmons, assistant manager at the Westgate SuperBook. “This week, it’s all Alabama.”
ANDY STAPLES: ALABAMA 17, GEORGIA 13
Georgia’s tight ends will probably fare better than Clemson’s in pass protection, but the cold truth is that if Alabama can get to Jake Fromm, the Crimson Tide will win the game. Georgia’s best chance offensively is if its line and those tight ends (Jeb Blazevich and Isaac Nauta) can help pin defenders and allow Georgia’s backs to get to the edge. Alabama made a commitment to using its backs more in the Sugar Bowl, and that commitment likely will continue. But when Calvin Ridley is running wide open, Jalen Hurts needs to hit him. Points will come at a premium, and the team that can cash in on the few available easy opportunities will win the national title. Game MVP: Da’Ron Payne.
Charlie Potter: Alabama 31, Georgia 15
Georgia rushed for 317 yards on 34 carries against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, but that won’t happen against Alabama. The battle in the trenches will be much more balanced. The Crimson Tide’s offensive line, replacing a starter at right guard, will need to play like it did in the Sugar Bowl in order to give Jalen Hurts time and create lanes for the running backs. If that happens, Alabama has a good chance to win its 17th national title and fifth during the Nick Saban era.
Travis Reier: Alabama 24, Georgia 19
A week ago, Clemson’s defensive line was the talk of the Sugar Bowl. Ultimately, it was Alabama’s front that stole the show in New Orleans. Expect a similar situation on the other side of the ball this time around, with UA’s rushing attack out-gaining UGA’s self-proclaimed “Running Back U.
For the Bulldogs and their fans, this is an opportunity decades in the making. Georgia has not played for a national title since 1983 nor brought home the championship since 1980. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, will be playing in their third straight title game and sixth over thel last nine seasons. Alabama is 4-1 in its previous five such games and defeated LSU 21-0 in that prior all-SEC meeting to win the 2011 title.
Much attention has been paid to Nick Saban’s 11-0 record against former assistants who face him as head coaches. Kirby Smart is about to break that streak. The bottom line is that Georgia has been the better football team all season. They have more talent and are a more complete football team on both sides of the ball. The Georgia Bulldogs will defeat Alabama in a close game and bring a championship back to Athens for the first time since 1980.
There is also a real chance we’re in for another slog: Alabama is the nation’s top scoring defense, giving up just 11.5 points per game, while Georgia’s is fourth-best in that category (13.2). But at least if this national championship turns out to be a dud, it will be the first terrible game we watched between these two SEC foes. One awful game can be stomached. Two leaves a lingering bad taste.
Only Auburn in the regular season meeting has truly contained Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. With the nation’s top defense, Alabama is well equipped to at least defend them well enough to win Monday night’s national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Leading that charge will be linebacker Rashaan Evans, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. Payne is ready to get back to doing what he does best after a Sugar Bowl interception and touchdown catch.
The perceived advantage Alabama holds in big-game experience might be a touch overblown, but it is nonetheless an advantage. The Tide are also healthier than they’ve been in months, with that returning talent on defense playing a huge role in the win against Clemson. Georgia will provide a different test than did the Tigers, and a test that Alabama will find familiar – since Georgia’s plan mirrors Alabama’s. But while the Bulldogs are more than capable of capturing the title, the Crimson Tide is the team to beat.
Alabama 24, Georgia 20
If you are looking for a matchup that Alabama can exploit, keep an eye on Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith in the interior run game. Smith is quite obviously a superstar: fast, instinctive, very good tackler in space, dangerous playmaker when blitzing, and very adept in coverage. He is built for today’s NFL.
It isn’t clear, however, that he is built to stop an elite run game, and even less clear that Georgia’s defensive line will be able to keep him clean.
We all saw this play in the Rose Bowl on a simple pin-and-pull inside zone. Smith is #3:
You may remember Alabama targeting similarly regarded Jarvis Jones with plenty of success in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, which not only gained some yards but also slowed down his pass rush a bit. Look for the Tide to try it again against Smith.
The takeover of spread concepts has made it rather cliche at this point to say that the team that best runs the ball is likely to win, but in this matchup that appears to be the case. Football purists will enjoy this one.
Kemberly approached the operation differently this time. She guarded against optimism, fearing a repeat of what happened years earlier. But it worked. The doctors were able to perform a successful kidney transplant, and she watched Payne dominate LSU from her bed in the hospital.
On one particular play that went viral, Payne used his incredible strength to literally run over an offensive lineman and get into the face of the quarterback.
”I was mad because I was not there,” Kemberly said. “And I wanted to be.”
Said Payne: “She’s always been there for me. Everywhere I need to go, she gets me there. Anything I need, she gets me. She’s always been there since I was in little league. I just love her to death and am thankful to have her in my life.”
This story almost reminds you of Ronnie Clark and Hootie Jones. Like those two, Payne has had to deal with unreal stress about the health of his mother as he dominated on the field. May he win a title for her tonight.
If Alabama beats Georgia on Monday night, Jalen Hurts will have earned himself a new distinction: worst national champion quarterback of the College Football Playoff Era. And possibly the worst of the 21st century.
There have been 11 CFP games to date. If you rank the winning quarterbacks in those games by total offense, Hurts has the two lowest – 160 yards running and passing against Clemson this year, and 107 against Washington last year. If you rank them by pass efficiency, Hurts has the seventh-best game (136.2 against Clemson last week) and the worst (84.2 against Washington).
Cardale Jones may have played like an elite QB, but an elite QB he was not. Nice hit piece, Pat.
That’s about it for today. Have a great week.