The second matchup of conference opponents in the College Football Playoff championship game features the same exact teams that did it the first time.
If Monday’s showdown mirrors the previous one between Alabama and Georgia from four years ago, then we’ll be treated to another dramatic showdown that will decide the season’s national champion.
The Crimson Tide won that aforementioned meeting on a walk-off touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith in overtime that capped a stirring second-half comeback after a shocking quarterback change. It was the fifth national title at the school and sixth overall for coach Nick Saban, who followed with another last season.
This time around, the teams have already met in the regular season with Alabama knocking off then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game by riddling the top-ranked defense of the Bulldogs for 41 points after trailing 10-0 into the second quarter. One of their key weapons in that game won’t be available as wide receiver John Metchie III is sidelined with a knee injury.
The Crimson Tide will be bidding to be the first repeat champions since they accomplished the feat in 2011 and 2012. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are hoping to end their national championship drought that dates back to 1980.
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KEYS TO GAME:How Alabama, Georgia prevail in title showdown
LOOKING AHEAD:Georgia not dwelling on heartbreaking past with Alabama
For argument’s sake, these are the two best teams in the nation, so the rematch no one wants or cares to see will just have to do. Expectations are that Georgia learned from their embarrassing SEC title game performance and will at least pressure Heisman winner Bryce Young into making some mistakes and slow down Alabama’s suddenly potent running game. Georgia 27, Alabama 21.
Georgia was the best team in college football all year and looked great again in the semifinals against Michigan, but the Dawgs lost so decisively in the SEC championship game that I just can’t fully trust them again. I’m riding the Nick Saban voodoo in this one. Kirby Smart is 0-4 against his former boss, with three of those losses coming with titles on the line. The idea of Georgia beating Alabama has reached a point where I’ll believe it when I see it. I think the rematch will be close, though – the loss of John Metchie will hurt Alabama – but the results will be the same: The Crimson Tide will win the national championship. Alabama 27, Georgia 24.
It’s hard to see how Alabama can put up another 41 points in Georgia, even if no one saw that coming the first time, either. But what have the Bulldogs learned? Look for a revamped approach on defense to join just enough offense to lift Georgia to a long-awaited national title. Georgia 27, Alabama 21.
Conventional wisdom around beating a team for a second time implies that the losing team has an advantage of motivation off its defeat. That won’t be the case here. Both teams are plenty focused with a national title on the line. The loss of receiver John Metchie will hurt the Alabama offense, but Bryce Young is dynamic enough to make plays against the susceptible Georgia secondary. If the Bulldogs don’t find a pass rush, look for the result from December to be repeated. Alabama 28, Georgia 20.
It won’t follow exactly the same script – rematches never do. Perhaps the Bulldogs will figure out a way to bother Bryce Young a bit, and maybe Stetson Bennett will make a few nice throws. But in the end, it will be the same outcome. Somewhat closer possibly, but a Tide win nonetheless. Alabama 34, Georgia 23.
Georgia came into the SEC championship with the wrong game plan to beat Alabama and allowed it to be a game about Bryce Young, who was sensational. Even at that, people forget that Georgia led 10-0 early and it was mostly a disastrous second quarter that did the Bulldogs in. This time, Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning won’t let Young dictate the terms of play and Georgia will grind the Crimson Tide’s offense down like it they did everyone else this season. Georgia 22, Alabama 13.
Who has the edge?
When Alabama runs
Even with Brian Robinson’s impressive performance against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, the Crimson Tide still rank comfortably in the bottom half of the Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense. Georgia is third against the run with an elite group in the front seven. After holding Robinson to just 55 yards in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs should be able to contain him again. EDGE: Georgia.
When Alabama passes
This was the biggest surprise of the game last month. Bryce Young wasn’t sacked and barely faced pressure as he picked apart the Georgia secondary for 421 yards and three touchdowns through the air. The Bulldogs allowed 41 points — more than four times their season’s average of 9.6 points, which leads the nation. The Crimson Tide will be without John Metchie, which should allow Georgia to pay more attention to big-play man Jameson Williams. But there still should be plenty of success for the Heisman Trophy winner. EDGE: Alabama.
When Georgia runs
If the Bulldogs are going to win this game, there has to be running room for Zamir White and James Cook because Stetson Bennett cannot carry the offense alone with his throwing. Alabama limited the duo to 65 yards combined in the SEC title game and their longest run was just 9 yards. In order to achieve balance, the Georgia offensive line has to be better. EDGE: Alabama.
When Georgia passes
Much has been made about the limitations of Bennett, however, he has thrown for a combined 653 yards and six touchdowns in the SEC title game and playoff semifinal. The weapons are there, notably with tight end Brock Bowers. Georgia also effectively used Cook out of the backfield against Michigan, which could be something to watch for Monday. Alabama forced Bennett into some mistakes when the Bulldogs were one-dimensional. If their running game isn’t going, look for it to happen again. EDGE: Alabama.
If the game comes down to a field goal, both teams have solid kickers, but nothing outstanding. Georgia punter Jake Camarda gives the Bulldogs a decided edge in the punting game, which can have a big impact on field position. Williams is one of the best kickoff returners with two touchdowns. EDGE: Georgia.
Kirby Smart has won 65 games in his six seasons and will be making his second appearance in the College Football Playoff game. He’s one of the premier coaches in college football. But he’s facing the greatest of all time in Nick Saban, who is going for his eighth title overall and seventh in his last 13 seasons with Alabama. Saban has also won all four meetings against his former assistant. EDGE: Alabama.