If Georgia wins the national championship Monday night in Indianapolis, this will undoubtedly be the Bulldogs’ best season since 1980. A national championship for the first time in 41 years would begin the debate about whether this is the greatest team in program history.
If, instead, Alabama wins the national championship, this still won’t be the Tide’s best team in the last two years. Last year’s undefeated team will always be remembered as one of the greatest in program history. This year’s team, even with a national championship on its resume, will be fighting to stay out of last place among Nick Saban’s seven championship teams in the last 13 years.
That’s not a dig against the current Alabama team. It’s incredibly hard to reach the national championship game, regardless of how well the school recruits or how good the coaching is or how much support the school provides to the program.
After losing on the last play of the game at Texas A&M, the Tide had to win seven straight games to reach this point. A loss in any of those games would have meant Alabama would have been left out of the playoffs. That included wins over bowl teams Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas. A comeback for the ages at Auburn. A win as an underdog in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia. And a workmanlike demolition of Cincinnati in the national semifinals last week.
Now comes the rematch with Georgia. It’s worth noting that if we still had the old BCS system to crown a champion or the current four-team playoff or an expanded 12- or 16-team playoff format, this is the game we would have eventually arrived at to decide the championship.
There is a strong precedent that favors Georgia over Alabama in the championship game.
The Bulldogs opened as a slim 2.5-point favorite over the Tide. The last time the championship game was predicted to be this close was 2012. That was the year Alabama lost at home to LSU in the regular season. Despite that loss, Alabama was a 1.5-point favorite in the rematch in New Orleans.
Oddsmakers knew what they were talking about, as the Tide dominated the Tigers to win the national championship in a shutout.
Now, Georgia isn’t likely to hold this Alabama team scoreless, but just like in 2012 when Alabama felt the best team didn’t win the regular-season matchup against LSU, these Georgia Bulldogs have said all year they’re the best team.
If the Bulldogs win the national championship, they will have earned it against the kings of the sport.
The best thing to be said about this Alabama team is that it has proven to be able to win in a variety of ways.
Nine times this season the Tide has scored more than 40 points in a game. Seven times they have held opponents to 14 points or less. (That’s not counting the Iron Bowl in which Auburn was held to 10 points in regulation.) There have been shootout wins like the 31-29 victory at Florida. And there have been slugfest wins like the 20-14 decision over LSU.
So, what will it take for Alabama to upset Georgia for the second time in five weeks?
First, the Tide will have to figure out how to produce explosive plays without injured star receiver John Metchie. Alabama’s offense has scored only 37 points in six quarters since Metchie was injured.
Utilizing Jameson Williams as a possession receiver won’t be an option against the Bulldogs. Williams has to continue to be a deep threat, which means somebody else is going to have to fill Metchie’s role. Freshman Ja’Corey Brooks is the most likely candidate.
Defensively, the Tide needs to be as good as they were in the SEC Championship Game when they scored a touchdown and forced Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett to panic and make mistakes.
But there are even more questions facing Georgia.
The first order of business for the Bulldogs is to remove all doubt that they are good enough to knock off the champions. It’s one thing to demonstrate false bravado like Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who said to his teammates before kickoff, “The ball doesn’t touch the ground today. Let’s put on a show. Let’s run it up on them.”
That sounded good, right up until the Bearcats realized they were up against a team that had their number.
As good as Georgia is, the Bulldogs haven’t proven they have what it takes to reach the top of the mountain. They will get that chance Monday night against the greatest dynasty in college football history.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart radio app.
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