After everything that’s happened this year, only two remain. Georgia will take on Alabama for the 2018 title.
It’s an all-SEC championship game folks. After a long season, the 2018 title game will be played between the second-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and the fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Georgia started the year at 15 in the AP Poll and has looked like a dominant team all season long. They’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 21.7 points per game and have used their dominant defense to win games. The Bulldogs have only surrendered 20+ points in a game three times, including in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma. Their only loss came to Auburn 40-17, but the Dawgs got their revenge in the SEC Championship and beat the Tigers 28-7.
Alabama’s inclusion in the CFP was controversial. They started the year ranked first and remained undefeated until a loss to Auburn. The loss left the Tide out of the SEC title game completely. Bama dropped to fifth and was on the outside looking in but a loss by fourth-ranked Wisconsin opened the door. Ohio State believed they should have gotten the last spot in the CFP but the committee voted in Alabama and now they’re on to their third-straight title appearance.
The Title Game will be played on January 8th at 8 pm EST on ESPN.
Headlines Heading Into The Game
1. Georgia Takes Down Oklahoma In OT- This year’s Rose Bowl was a thriller that might have been even better than last season’s USC-Penn State battle. Oklahoma looked like they were going to run away with it when they built a 31-17 halftime lead, but Georgia came out in the second half a different team.
The Bulldogs defense turned things around and made life difficult for Heisman-winner Baker Mayfield. As a team, they finished with five sacks and most of those came in the second half. The Sooners were outscored 28-14 in the second half with only one score coming from their offense. In the overtime period, the Bulldog defense came up with one more big play with a blocked go-ahead field goal. That set up Sony Michel’s game-winning 27-yard touchdown run that sent Georgia to the title game.
2. Alabama Wins Round Three Against Clemson- The late game Sugar Bowl didn’t have the fireworks that the Rose Bowl had but it had plenty of hype. For the third-straight year, Alabama and Clemson met in the CFP but this time not in the championship game. This game certainly didn’t finish the same as the others.
Alabama jumped out to a 10-3 lead at the end of the first half that was dominated by the Tide defense. Clemson’s offense averaged 430 yards per game but was held to just 68 in the first half and could only muster three points. Things didn’t get better in the second half. The Tide defense gave up only 120 yards and forced two interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown. The final score was a measly 26-3 win for the Tide and Nick Saban leads his team to a third-straight title game.
3. Kirby Smart versus Nick Saban- Every year since 2010 Nick Saban has gone up against a former assistant and the students have yet to overtake the master. In 11 meetings between Saban and his assistants, the Tide are 11-0 and have won by an average of 29 points, and none have been within 14. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will now get his shot at taking down Saban.
Kirby Smart is Nick Saban 2.0— UGA News (@DawgNATION__) January 2, 2018
Nick Sabans 1st Season at Bama 7-6
Kirby Smarts 1st Season at Georgia 8-5
Nick Sabans 2nd Season at Bama 12-2
Kirby Smarts 2nd Season at Georgia 13-1
Nick Saban won a Nat’l Championship at Bama his 2nd Year
Kirby Smart is playing for that Monday
Smart was Alabama’s defensive coordinator and top recruiter from 2008-2015. Over his career in Tuscaloosa, Smart lead a defense that never finished lower than seventh in points allowed, and he’s brought that mindset to Athens. The Bulldogs are fourth in yards per game allowed and points per game allowed. This will be the best defense Alabama faces all season and Saban has to lose to an assistant one of these days. Will the title game be the first?
.460 vs. .338 - Converting on third downs will be crucial, especially early and late in this game. Georgia was one of the best teams in keeping the ball moving, converting 46% of their third downs on the season, which ranked ninth in the country. In the Rose Bowl, they ran into an issue converting. Alabama will counter with the nations 26th best third-down defense, only allowing 33.8% of third downs to be converted on them.
Georgia is so good on third down because they get ahead of the chains on first and second down. With Sony Michel and Nick Chubb being able to pick up chunks of yards on the ground, it puts the Bulldog offense in manageable third downs. The Tide’s defense is good in stopping both short and long conversions. Their front seven is big and their secondary has playmakers flying around making life miserable for any offense. If Georgia can march down the field and tire the Bama defense out by converting, then it’s going to be a long night for the Tide.
255.8 vs. 121.9 - Both offenses are built in very similar fashions, so it’s no surprise that Alabama thrives on running the football. In fact, they have the 10th best rushing offense, averaging 255.8 yards per game. Three Alabama players have 120+ carries on the year: quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. This trio struggled to get anything going against Clemson though. They combined for 42 carries and only 141 yards, with Harris leading the way with 77 yards. That’s not going to be good enough against Georgia.
The Bulldogs have done a terrific job in stopping the run all season. They give up only 121.9 rushing yards per game. Surprisingly Oklahoma had the most success running the ball on Georgia this season. Sooner running back Rodney Anderson gashed the Bulldogs by running 26 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns. If a passing team like Oklahoma can do that, imagine what Alabama’s rushing attack could possibly do.
+13 vs. +5 - Winning the turnover battle is always important but in the national championship game it means so much more. Field position is always at a premium and an ill-timed turnover can swing momentum in an instant. Alabama is one of the best when it comes to winning the battle, as they did against Clemson in the semi-final. They rank fifth with a +13 margin. It helps your numbers when the offense only turns the ball over nine times all season. But the defense has also done their fair share in taking the ball away with 22 takeaways of their own.
Georgia on the other side isn’t the best team in winning the turnover game. With a +5 margin, the Bulldogs rank 35th nationally. The defense is elite at stopping teams but not at taking the ball away. They are tied for 59th with only 19 takeaways. Not being able to get turnovers hasn’t stopped Georgia on their way to the national title game though.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama- Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has another year of experience and will be a major part of getting the Tide offense moving. In last year’s game, Hurts was 13-if-31 throwing for 131 yards and one touchdown. He did add 63 yards and a score on the ground but was generally ineffective. This season, Hurts hasn’t taken the jump many expected but is still the guy Saban trusts to take this team to the next level.
Jalen Hurts 24 wins as Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback but still battles criticism. We protected him?? Sec offense player of the year!!! Undefeated! Don’t change Jalen. Love u ♥️🏈🔥💯🏋🏿 @espn See u tomorrow https://t.co/IJqOkS6175— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) December 31, 2017
On the year Hurts completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,125 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s also a major threat in the running game. Hurts is second on the team in yards with 808, but is first in both carries (148) and rushing touchdowns (11). If the Tide want to attack this Georgia defense, Hurts will have to protect the ball, like he has all year, and find a way to be efficient both running and passing.
Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia- Freshman quarterback Jack Fromm is essentially in the exact same situation Hurts was last season. Neither started the first game of the season, and once they got the starting spot in Week 2 they never let it go. Unlike Hurts, Fromm is hoping to end his first season with a title.
Fromm hasn’t had the stats like Hurts did but he still had a very impressive freshman season. He threw for 2,383 yards, 23 touchdowns, and five interceptions. The Georgia offense is based around running backs Michel and Chubb, but Fromm is capable of taking a hold of it. Against Alabama’s elite defense Fromm will have to have an efficient and almost error-free game.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia- Not enough can be said about linebacker Roquan Smith. He’s the first ever Bulldog to win the Butkus Award for nation’s best linebacker, and deservedly so. Smith finished the season with 124 total tackles, almost 50 more than the second closest player on the team. He added 11.5 tackles for loss and tied for the team lead in sacks with 5.5. On top of the Butkus Award, Smith was named AP First-Team All-American.
Alabama, and more importantly Hurts will need to know where Smith is at all times. Hurts’ whole game revolves around him being able to improvise and run the ball himself. Smith is a headhunter and will be tasked with containing and taking down Hurts nearly every chance he gets.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama- I was tempted to put Minkah Fitzpatrick here, but Rashaan Evans is actually a more important piece of the Tide defense. The linebacking core has been decimated by injuries. Dylan Moses and Shaun Dion Hamilton have gone down this season and now Afneree Jennings has been ruled out of the title game after having an impactful day against Clemson. That leaves Evans as the leader in a very important part of the Alabama defense.
Evans adds his name to the list of NFL-ready linebackers. He’s been overshadowed by guys like current 49er linebacker Reuben Foster but Evans is making the most of his time as the guy in the linebacker group. Despite missing two games himself, Evans is second on the team in total tackles (66), sacks (6), and first in tackles for loss (11.5). The rangy linebacker will be important in plugging up gaps in the run game and manning the middle of the field in pass protection.
Why Georgia Will Win
Georgia’s offense found a new gear in scoring a season-high 54 points. However, that was against Oklahoma’s mediocre defense. Alabama is a different beast but the game plan should stay the same. Chubb and Michel will set the pace early for the Bulldogs just like they have all season long. Alabama’s defense isn’t as deep as it has been in years past. So if the running game wears them down early and often, they have the potential to hit a big run late in the game that could seal the victory or put them right back into it.
PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 5, 2018
Fromm will also need to accept a game manager role and that’s okay. He has only four games where he’s thrown over 200 yards and things probably won’t get easier against Alabama. Taking care of the football by staying away from guys like Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace are imperative.
Smart is a defensive minded guy and you better believe he’s going to have this defense pumped and chomping at the bit to get after this Alabama offense. Containing the run is of course the first priority, but watch out for the big play in the passing game. Calvin Ridley is perhaps the best receiver in this year’s draft class and has the uncanny ability to get behind the secondary and score on the deep ball. Best way to prevent that is to put pressure on Hurts so he can’t set his feet and wind up for that pass. I’m sure Smith will have no problem doing that.
Why Alabama Will Win
Alabama’s offensive mindset is a mirror image of Georgia’s. Establish the run early and often and ride it through the game picking up chunks of yards when you can. However, Bama has something the Bulldogs don’t and that’s Hurts. In his second go-round Hurts is essentially a seasoned vet. He’ll be called upon to improvise a lot this game. Roaming around the pocket and avoiding pressure has to be executed properly. If Hurts can buy time then this Georgia secondary could break down leaving Ridley or even Jerry Jeudy open for a big play.
PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 4, 2018
Daron Payne, De’Shawn Hand, and Raekwon Davis will be huge for the Tide. If those three can plug up the holes and allow the linebackers to come and blow up the run game than the Tide will most likely win this game. Let the secondary play how they like to play against the passing game, but this front seven has to win the battle in the trenches. They can’t let Chubb or Michel get into space and get to the next level. Put the pressure on Fromm and make him try and beat you. That’s what Clemson did last year to Hurts and the Tide need to use that same mindset.
I’ve had the pleasure of doing the national championship previews for the last two years. While last season’s Clemson-Alabama part two battle was one of the best games I’ve ever watched, this game is the matchup I’ve been waiting to see. The country gets to finally see Georgia play the kings of the south and possibly overtake them.
This might be the must vulnerable Bama team we’ve seen in a long time. Georgia’s defense isn’t going to be intimidated by the rushing attack since they see an equally, if not better running duo in practice. Alabama lacks depth on defense and the thunder and lightning combo of Chubb and Michel can crack the Tide. I think Chubb and Michel both break a couple 20+ yard runs each that pulls the defense up allowing Fromm to pick apart the secondary enough to win the game. I’ve picked Alabama the last two years and it’s really hard not to stick with Saban but the torch is passed to Smart and the Bulldogs.
Georgia Upsets the Tide 27-21
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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