Alabama vs. Georgia - National Championship Preview

January 8, 2018 by Dave Congrove

As predicted by the Congrove Computer Rankings when the playoff pairings were announced, it will be an all-SEC final in the College Football Playoff Championship game. Alabama knocked off Georgia 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl New Year's Day nightcap after Georgia defeated Oklahoma 54-48 in double-overtime in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day. The teams will meet tonight in Atlanta.

This will be the first College Football Playoff Championship between a #3 seed (Georgia) and a #4 seed (Alabama). The previous two battles between Clemson and Alabama featured the two top seeds, and the first CFP title match in 2014 was won by 4th-seeded Ohio State over 2nd-seeded Oregon.

Alabama this year, and Ohio State last year, are the only two teams to advance to the playoff final four without winning their conference or even playing in their conference championship game. This is the first season that any conference had two teams make the final four.

Alabama quickly turned a 10-6 lead into a 24-6 advantage, aided by back-to-back interceptions over a 13-second span of the 3rd quarter. First, Da'Ron Payne picked off Kelly Bryant when he was hit as he threw. The subsequent return and a personal foul penalty set up the Tide at the Tiger 27 and they scored 7 plays later with Payne, a defensive lineman, serving as Jalen Hurts' target out of the backfield. On the next Clemson play, Bryant's pass was tipped away from the intended target and into the hands of Mack Wilson who took it 18 yards to the end zone.

The two playoff games could not have been more different. Clemson and Alabama combined for 449 yards and 30 points in their game, while Georgia and Oklahoma posted 102 points (90 in regulation) and 1,058 yards.

The Sooners had a 21-7 lead with 14:12 to go in the 2nd quarter on Rodney Anderson runs of 9 and 41 yards, and a Baker Mayfield pass of 13 yards to Marquise Brown. Georgia cut that deficit to 7 on the next play with Sony Michel's 75-yard run, but the Sooners stretched it to 31-14 with just 6 seconds left until halftime when CeeDee Lamb took a reverse pitch and tossed it to Mayfield in the end zone for a two-yard score. An accidental 12-yard squib kick set up Rodrigo Blankenship's 55-yard field goal to make it 31-17 at the half and begin a 24-point run for Georgia.

The Bulldogs added touchdowns on three of their first four possessions of the second half, the latter of which came after Dominic Sanders returned an interception 40 yards to the Oklahoma 4. From there, Jake Fromm tossed a TD pass to Javon Wims and it was 38-31, Georgia. The momentum swung back in Oklahoma's favor with two scores that came 1:55 apart midway though the fourth quarter as Dimitri Flowers' 11-yard TD catch from Mayfield was followed by a Michel fumble and a 46-yard scoop and score by Steve Parker. Advantage Oklahoma, 45-38. After an exchange of punts, the Bulldogs drove 59 yards and tied the game on Nick Cubb's 2-yard run with just 55 seconds left. In the first overtime, both teams made field goals but Oklahoma missed a 47-yarder in the top of the second. Georgia needed just 2 plays for Michel to race 27 yards for the game-winner.

Nick Saban will be looking to tie Bear Bryant with a 6th national title but his first, of course, came with LSU. Saban will be going up against his former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, who is in his second season as the head coach of the Bulldogs. Saban is 11-0 vs. former assistants who became head coaches.

Both teams have stout defenses, but Georgia's has proven to be more vulnerable. The 'Dawgs gave up 40 to Auburn and 28 to Missouri in regular season games, and surrendered 48 to Oklahoma in the playoff semifinal. The Crimson Tide haven't allowed more than 26 points in any game this year and held their opponent to 10 points or less in 9-of-13 games. Georgia held 7 foes to 10 or fewer points. The Alabama 'd' allowed an average of just 11.1 points per game, and gave up only 16 touchdowns. The Bulldogs have allowed 15.7 points per game and 25 touchdowns (6 versus Oklahoma) over 14 games.

On offense, 'Bama has averaged 37.9 points per game to Georgia's 36.3. Yards per game slightly tilt in the Tide's favor, 449.7 to 440.3.

Alabama will be aiming for a 5th national championship in 9 seasons, and its 14th overall. Georgia will be playing for its first national championship since 1980, and second ever.

The line opened in favor of Alabama (-4) and the computer gives the Tide a 4.15-point advantage.