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CFB Playoff Championship Preview: Roll Bama Roll Staff Predictions

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With only one day until kickoff, here’s how some of the staff here are feeling about the Championship game

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Team Arrivals Indianapolis Star-USA TODAY NETW

It’s almost time for the biggest game of the year, and, once again, Alabama is in it. This time, though, Alabama just might get to pull the underdog card despite beating Georgia only 1 month ago. According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, the Bulldogs are favored by 2.5 points. It’s certainly a bit of a unique position for the Tide, as they’ve so rarely been on that side of the betting market over the last decade. With that in mind, I asked our own Josh Chatham, Erik Evans, and CB969 about some of their thoughts about how things will go tomorrow.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

1) So, uh, big game coming up, huh? At this point, all these National Championships are all starting to blend together. Which one of Saban’s Natty’s has been your favorite?

CB969: The answer will always be the next one! 24 hour rule and all. However, 2020 was exceptionally enjoyable.

Erik Evans: Parents always claim that you love your children equally. That is a lie, of course: you have favorites, though each may be special for a different reason. In terms of meaningfulness, it’s hard to top 2009. With duct tape, a lot of three-stars, guys playing out of position everywhere, a passing game from 1971 and a quarterback from 1871, Alabama lined up and channeled their inner reservoir of piss n’ spleen to bully a team with far more talent, and in the process, the Tide returned where it belonged. So, 2020 may be my favorite team just in terms of how much they rallied ‘round and everything they had to overcome and the characters on that squad; 2017 may have the singular jaw-dropping historic moment; and so on. But, 2009 just hit differently in a way that another title has not resonated since. Is that a “favorite?” I dunno. But I’d say it’s the most meaningful.

Josh Chatham: I can’t imagine anyone picking one other than 2020. That was the most mature, dominant team of the Saban era and the way they maintained laser focus to win 13 consecutive Power Five games despite dealing with COVID protocols was nothing short of amazing.

Brent Taylor: 2012 will always be special to me, as I was a freshman living on Alabama’s campus for that season, with the crazy wins over LSU and Georgia before the whole Manti Teo saga and obliterating Notre Dame. It was just all so much fun. I will say, though, the 2020 squad was my favorite team, and the 2017 Championship game was by far the best single game (though the 2015 one really isn’t far behind).

2) Of course, we’ve also seen Alabama fall short in the 2016 and 2018 National Championships, with coaching turnover playing a major role. Georgia’s Dan Lanning is already pulling double-duty with Oregon, and Alabama’s Bill O’Brien is supposedly going to interview with the Jaguars. Does the coaching carousel make any significant difference for either team?

CB969: I feel like BOB is dialed in. He hasn’t won anything yet and hasn’t actually made it to an interview table. Blowing this final game would not look good on the resume and he knows that. Lanning on the other hand already has the ink dry. He has irons in a lot of fires on the other side of the country. There’s a good chance his wife and kids are in Eugene house-hunting and he is wishing he was there. Also to consider is who on the current UGA staff has Lanning already talked to about joining him out west. Could their minds be wandering too?

Erik Evans: I think it matters a lot more here for Georgia than it generally has at Alabama. Lanning isn’t just another high profile coach trying to pull double-duty; he’s a guy who’s been given the keys to a West Coast Ferrari after just three years at the coordinator level. This isn’t someone like Kirby who spent a decade tutoring under Saban; or Mac with his own decade of experience; or Sarkisian and Kiffin with head coaching stints in their past. This is a guy who still hasn’t fully mastered his own craft yet, trying to learn how to put distractions behind him, and is doing so under Kirby Smart — a man with just 6 years experience who himself hasn’t been able to get over the hump. When you hear Lanning say he has spent three weeks “immersed” in Oregon, that should trouble Bulldogs fans.

But for the Tide? Far less concerns. BoB is nothing if not stoic. And while Lanning has already had his job interview, the final 60 minutes of 2021 are still part of the final exam for O’Brien’s shot at the Jags job (one that I think he will get, BTW). You have to like the steadier presence here of an older man, who’s spent time in the shadow of Penn State’s issues, under the tutelage of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, and still got his job done. And you also have to like Saban’s ability to adjust to what has become a nearly-annual tradition: turnover.

Josh Chatham: No, particularly since the interview isn’t happening until after the game. The game plan is already in place at this point.

Brent Taylor: I’m definitely not too concerned about O’Brien. Dude’s been doing this forever and handles his stuff, and he’s not even started interviewing yet. As for Georgia, Lanning pulling double duty might affect some of their preparation... But let’s be honest, this is Kirby Smart’s defense. So I don’t expect it to really be a factor.

3) Now, in the case of Pete Golding, the Alabama defensive coordinator has made it very clear he’s not currently on the market for a head coach job. He’s also talked a little this week about some of the game theory concepts around changing (or not changing) some strategies in the rematch. If you’re Golding, how would you approach the gameplan for the big finale? Changing things up to counter the counter-punch, or stick with what worked?

CB969: If it was me, I would stick with a similar gameplan. UGA’s offense has not been all that creative this year. They have thrived on big plays from the pass-catchers to make up for Stetson Bennett’s deficiencies. The first go-around, Bama basically contained that issue. The Bulldogs haven’t really had or needed a running back to grind out yards and eat up the clock until the SECCG where the Tide exposed that flaw.

Erik Evans: I don’t think you make changes if you’re Pete Golding. Alabama held UGA to 3.63 YPC in one-score snaps. They held Bowers to one catch in the first half. Pickens was largely silent. They sacked Bennett, affected the pass, forced three turnovers, and made UGA do that which they were not comfortable with and play a style that they cannot win: match score for score, through the air. Tweaks? Sure. I think you take a look back at how Bowers was used later in the game and anticipate that you’ll see that a good bit, and I think you plan for some more designed Bennett runs — the UGA offensive line can’t stop the Alabama pass rush, and that is one way to negate it. But why reinvent the wheel otherwise?

Josh Chatham: I’m sure there will be a few wrinkles added that Georgia hasn’t seen, but by and large I expect both teams to stick with what got them here. Alabama will focus on stopping the run, trapping Bennett in the pocket, batting down passes and waiting for his mistakes. It worked quite well last time.

Brent Taylor: Goal #1 has to be to continue to shut down their power run game to force Stetson Bennett to win the game. Goal #2 is DO NOT LET James Cook get open down the field. Goal #3 is to at least make things hard for Brock Bowers. He’ll get his catches, but make sure he doesn’t get a bunch after the catch, and make him feel every tackle.

Alabama did all of those things the first time around, so lets do it again.

4) The biggest change on offense is that Alabama is going to have to find production from another receiver than just Jameson Williams. After John Metchie left in the second half of the SEC Championship, the Alabama passing offense has mostly been a non-starter. Who steps up this week as the #2 pass catching option, and how many catches/yards/TDs does he have?

CB969: With UGA likely clamping down on Williams, Jacorey Brooks should see some one-on-one coverages but will get plenty of attention as well. That should open up opportunities for running backs and tight ends to make some receiving plays. Cameron Latu will make a couple of catches and maybe a score. Jahleel Billingsley will come up with a big reception or two. Brian Robinson could get some catches for big yards. One wild card: I feel like some plays are drawn up for freshman Christian Leary on Monday.

Erik Evans: Ja’Corey Brooks has that it. And he will be greatly assisted by an obligingly-aggressive Bulldogs defense that will let him get space if he runs clean routes (that, and you have to expect UGA will bracket Jamo.) He’ll get a chance to shine, though I do think Alabama will likely use a Metch-by-Committee approach to move the chains. Let’s say 11 targets, 7 catches for 94 yards, a few big first downs, and one score. His length will also help in the endzone: at 6’3”, he’s a tall kid. That affords Bryce some options and a larger throwing window that simply aren’t there with the Tide’s smaller receiving options.

Josh Chatham: Ja’Corey Brooks has obviously been the guy outside and has done well, but something tells me that the tight ends are involved this time. Does Jahleel Billingsley have an out-of-nowhere performance in him like OJ Howard against Clemson in 2015? If Georgia brings the house on most downs this time as everyone seems to expect, it’s quite possible.

Brent Taylor: I’m gonna go a little left field here and say that I think we get a nice day from Javon Baker. No real solid supporting evidence for the claim, but he got a good bit of playing time against Cincinnati, has been mentioned in press conferences, and is from the state of Georgia. 4 catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.

5) What is the likelihood Kirby Smart tries to pull the Big Lots Bama move and switches to JT Daniels at halftime if the Dogs are losing?

CB969: It would not surprise me at all. As I mentioned in my “Psychological Edge” piece, Bama had Bennett’s number in their last two meetings. If he struggles a third time, Smart HAS to do something.

Erik Evans: I want to say that Kirby so slavishly apes Nick Saban that he would do it. It’s arguably his best team (though I maintain the 2017 group was better), and he’s seen what happened to his predecessor: you only get so many windows of opportunity. South Carolina has gotten tougher, Tennessee has gotten tougher, Florida has gotten tougher — and that’s just in the last 6 weeks. Now or never, so to speak.

BUT, I think we all know that Kirby is more conservative than Genghis Khan watching an Own the Libs YouTube compilation while shitposting on 4Chan and hawking his new line of Made-in-Serbia MAGA gear — he’ll reason that the Dawgs just need better execution; that they’re the more physical team; that you dance with them what brung ya’; that Bennett’s mobility not only gives you a better chance to move the ball but also helps to negate the best player on the field (rhymes with Chill Anderson). So, no. He won’t do it. He’ll get criticized if Georgia loses again and if Bennett has another spotty stretch, sure. But he’d likely bring up all those factors above as to why you don’t bring an ice-cold oft-injured guy off the bench in a national title game.

And you know what? He’d have a very good argument for doing so, barring a complete meltdown by SBIV

Josh Chatham: It depends on why they are losing. If the game is 24-14 Bama and Bennett hasn’t made any major mistakes, then I wouldn’t expect it. If Georgia’s offense is sputtering, however, anything is possible. I’m not sure that any human on earth wants anything more than Kirby Smart wants to beat Alabama.

Brent Taylor: Honestly, I hope he does. As much as Bennett has thrown some horrible interceptions in his two games against Alabama, he’s also made some amazing throws and has a lot of mobility that scares me. Daniels, on the other hand, will look like fresh meat for the Alabama pass rush. That said, I don’t expect Kirby makes the change. Would be funny though.

6) Any certain hoodoo’s or traditions you’re going to be practicing to do your part to make sure Alabama gets the win?

CB969: It’s not really a superstition, but I tend to stand for most of the games I watch on TV.

Erik Evans: I have two sports-related hoodoos, but one is reserved for the Stanley Cup playoffs (Go Pens), and the other is reserved for LSU - Alabama games (in what started as a joke on Twitter a decade ago turned into a tradition.) But otherwise? Nah. Hoodoo is for people who are worried about their team’s coaching, talent, and preparation. Of these three, I am fairly certain UGA only stands in equipoise with Alabama on one count: they have a lot of talent.

Josh Chatham: No. I have not that kind of power.

Brent Taylor: I went to a certain restaurant to watch the 2017 National Championship when Tua Tagovailoa came in at halftime to mount a comeback. I then changed things up the following year and the game fell apart. So in 2020, I went back to the same place I went in 2017... And things went well. So you better believe that’s where I’m going tomorrow.

7) What’s your final score prediction? (And feel free to not predict if it violates your personal Hoodoo rules)

CB969: Bama 30, Dwags 24 - it’ll be another one of those one score game in which UGA fans will say “if only....!” or something they’ll blame on the refs.

Erik Evans: For the better part of a week, I foresaw a comfortable win either way. And, until yesterday, I was prepared for absolutely any result — from Alabama by 17 to Georgia by the same. But, the more I pored over stats and data, the more I listened to how Georgia players were speaking as much as what they were saying, the more I paid attention to intangibles and coaching and trends, I finally settled on something I am comfortable with.

It will be a weird game, with each team taking double-digit leads at times before ending in a one-score affair. And, in the end, Alabama’s superior pass-rushing, superior third down offense and defense, superior coaching and preparation, superior passing game, and above all superior ball security, make the difference over the raw talent advantage that Georgia brings into this game. Think about this for a moment: No matter whether it is the offense or the defense taking snaps for the Tide, Alabama will have the single best player on the field at all times. That matters.

Alabama 32 Georgia 27

Josh Chatham: These are two very evenly matched teams. In modern college football, the team with the best QB wins. That team is Alabama. I’ll roll with the Tide, 34-24.

Brent Taylor: My heart tells me Alabama holds the psychological high ground here. My head tells me that the Tide has a matchup advantage.

That said, the continued lack of a consistent passing attack since losing John Metchie has me worried. I’m about 50-50 that whichever team wins, they’re winning by 2+ scores, and it will depend on the attitude that Georgia comes in with. If the Bulldogs are up for and seeking annihilation, they’ll win handily. But if they come in tight? Alabama crushes.

Hopefully, I’ll reverse jinx things... But I’m going 31-21 Georgia.