SEC fans can party like it’s 2012 again.
That was the last time a pair of teams from the Southeastern Conference met to decide a national championship, Alabama beating LSU 21-0 to take the crown. ‘Bama crushed Notre Dame 42-0 the following year, just to let everyone know how much more sense an all-SEC final made in determining FBS superiority.
Things haven’t been peachy for the conference since then, with a glut of over-recruited QBs failing to accomplish what they were groomed since 8th grade to do – win a title for a powerful southern program. The SEC has won only 1 out of 3 College Football Playoff brackets since the new system arrived in 2014-15.
The league will be 2 out of 4 after Monday’s clash between Alabama and SEC-champion Georgia. The CFP final is being held in Atlanta, just a half hour drive from the Bulldogs’ campus in Athens. But odds-makers have installed the Crimson Tide as 4 or 5-point favorites at all competing sports books.
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Georgia Bulldogs
When: Monday, January 8th, 8 PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Lines: Alabama (-4.5) vs Georgia (+4.5) / O/U Total: (45)
You likely won’t watch this game alone. Winning a bet on the national championship goes a long way in bragging rights in addition to whatever amount of cash is collected. We could blather on about each team’s coaches and superstars, but with so much on the line, a methodical approach must be taken.
There are 3 ways that the Crimson Tide can beat Georgia and cover the spread. If any of the 3 scenarios have a better chance of resulting in an Alabama win than a backfire in the Tide’s faces, then the favorites worth a wager. If Georgia has at least a 50/50 chance to counter in any eventuality, then the ‘dogs (the ‘Dawgs, in this case) are the bet.
Alabama’s defense could dominate Georgia for 4 quarters. Nick Saban’s resurgent defense exposed Kelly Bryant of Clemson last Monday, intercepting 2 passes and holding the Tigers to less than 200 yards. It was a stunning statement by a ‘D that was maligned after losing the Iron Bowl.
But Clemson is a finesse offense – Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs just want to plow on the ground and throw passes over the top of linebackers. Led by Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, the UGA backfield rushed for almost 10 yards per carry against the Big 12 champion Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl. Sure, Alabama’s got more in the front-7…but there’s not a college team on heaven or Earth who can shut down the Georgia running game right now.
Jalen Hurts could win a shoot-out even if Georgia scores first and controls the contest. The underclassman has been dazzling as a dual-threat at times this season, rushing for 150+ yards in a 41-10 clobbering of Fresno State in Week 2, shepherding a crucial late-season win over Mississippi State, and leading the team in rushing against LSU. However, Hurts has had his pass attempts severely limited by coaches in 2017. The QB played well in the loss to Auburn, but there’s a reason his 24 attempts against Clemson matched his highest total for the year.
If Georgia can get to the pocket early, Saban will be hesitant to put the game in his signal-caller’s hands. The Bulldogs sacked Baker Mayfield 5 times last Monday.
Finally, there’s the formula the Tide uses to defeat most ranked teams – hang around, fight, and ankle-bite in all 3 phases until the opposing offense becomes impatient and destroys itself. It worked against FSU in the season opener and worked against Clemson in the most recent game. It didn’t work, however, against Auburn – a school that lost to Georgia 28-7 in the SEC Championship.
Alabama’s pass rush and Georgia’s offensive line are the important components. Jake Fromm is a nifty QB who proved his mettle in a long, tense battle with an opportunistic Sooner defense. But he’ll be in an obvious passing scenario at some point, and that’s where the ‘Bama defense comes to feast.
Georgia’s OL hasn’t always protected Fromm, but has played at a high level. An issue is that if Alabama succeeds in winning TOP and reversing their fatigue-driven dilemma from last year’s CFP final, Fromm will have a fresh, hungry front-7 to contend with on drive after drive. Damien Harris is averaging almost 8 ypc for the Tide, and can convert a handful 1st downs if given touches.
Once again, though, the Georgia rushers are the X-factor. Saban doesn’t have anyone with the productivity or stamina of Chubb or Michel. Harris’ 19 carries against Clemson amounted to his busiest game of the season, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game since October. The Bulldogs rushed for 200+ yards against Mississippi State and 238 against Auburn in December, wrecking either team’s chance of controlling 4 quarters.
Rule of thumb – if an underdog has been better than the favorite against common opponents in games that occurred after the first 1-3 weeks of the season, and there’s no obvious reason why the favored team should dominate, then the ‘dog is a better gamble. Georgia has whipped multiple schools that gave Alabama serious issues.
Oh, and FWIW the Bulldogs were pretty darn good in Week 2…beating Notre Dame 20-19.
2018 is the Year of the Dog, but it could also be the Year of the Backfield in the south. Take the better crew of RBs and the better bet with a wager on the Georgia Bulldogs and (4.5) points on Monday night.