CFP National Championship
The National Championship
The most anticipated game of the season has arrived. On Monday night in Atlanta, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide will contest the 4th edition of the College Football Playoff national championship game. For the third straight year the game features Nick Saban’s Alabama squad which was selected to the CFP (they’ve been selected to the Top 4 in every iteration of this still-new format) as an “at large” team after failing to win the Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) West division and therefore not appearing in the SEC title game. Georgia, on the other hand won the SEC East then prevailed over Auburn to win the SEC championship and secure their spot in the Top 4.
Both teams enter the game off one week’s rest having won New Year’s Day bowl games to set up this final showdown. While Alabama demolished Clemson in the Sugar bowl, Georgia eked out a double overtime victory over this season’s Heisman Trophy winner and his Oklahoma Sooners in a Rose Bowl that will go down as one of the greatest college football games ever played. Although college football is played every Saturday during its regular season, Coach Saban took the opportunity to complain to the media this week that one week was insufficient prep time for the final game. While Saban would know more about this than anyone else based on his experience in the title game, I find it hypocritical to suddenly lament the difficulty this set up causes the student athletes. NOW we’re concerned about inconveniencing the players? Hahahaha! Ok, sure.
I admit this feels like a regional game between two teams from the same conference with campuses 274 miles apart making easy drives to the South’s city for an SEC game that could just as easily take place in September, but it really is the National championship. So let’s take a look at the two teams and then dive into what to expect on the field Monday night.
“Roll Tide!” is the refrain you’re gonna hear a lot. ‘Bama opened the season ranked #1 in the Associated Press college football poll and stayed there for about three months, only falling from the top spot in Week 14 after losing to in state rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl. If you’re not familiar with college football, you’re probably wondering how a team that didn’t win its own division or its own conference could possibly be playing for the national championship and that’s a fair question. The short answer is: pedigree. The committee passed over two champions of major conferences to select Alabama because their single loss was a “better loss” than the two losses suffered by USC and Ohio State. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the best one we have. If the Tide pulls out a victory on Monday, the committee will be vindicated, but the discussion will likely rage on over how we should be determining the national champion.
As I mentioned, Alabama absolutely undressed the defending national champions last week to win their spot in the final and they did it with suffocating defense. There are dynamic playmakers on offense, but this team’s identity is rooted firmly in it’s ability to take away what the opponent does best. Pay particular attention to the defensive side of the ball because Alabama regularly puts players in the NFL (46 currently).
“Go Dawgs!” The Bulldogs spent most of the season in the top 10 including two weeks as the #2 ranked team in the AP poll so we shouldn’t be all that surprised to be getting this match up at the very end. While Alabama had to sweat it out to see whether the committee would find them worthy, Georgia was able to grab its fate by the horns and win its first SEC Championship since 2005. Like the Tide, Georgia suffered its only regular season loss at Auburn. The Bulldogs, however, won the SEC East earning them a rematch against the Tigers in the SEC Championship game where they were dominant in avenging their loss from three weeks earlier.
Georgia is a solid offensive team with two spectacular running backs, but the 54 points they scored in the Rose Bowl was the most for them this season. Their quarterback is a true freshman and they generally prefer a conservative offensive approach. Head Coach Kirby Smart was the defensive coordinator for the Alabama team that won the national title two years ago so you can imagine where this team feels its identity lies. For comparison’s sake, Georgia boasts 37 current NFL players.
The Match Up
With two rugged defensive teams that want to establish the run and minimize risk on offense, we could easily be looking at a 13-7 final score that takes about 2 hours, 50 minutes to complete, but suspicion is that this game won’t be as close as the 4-point spread in favor of ‘Bama suggests. Nick Saban is an obscene 11-0 against his former assistants. Kirby Smart is in just his second year as a head coach and, while Georgia did win their bowl game last year, taking on a 6-6 TCU team in the Liberty Bowl on December 30th doesn’t exactly qualify as a “big game.”
I anticipate Alabama stacking the box to stifle the Chubb/Michel rushing duo and challenging the young QB to beat them over the top. Georgia may hang in there early on, but Alabama will eventually take control of the game and break it open late with a defensive score. I’ll be cheering for the Bulldogs and I think there are some glorious days ahead of this program under Coach Smart, but we’re still squarely in the Nick Saban Era. Alabama collects its 17th overall national championship and its 5th under Saban, all since 2009. Crimson Tide 24, Bulldogs 10