4:00 PM EST, CBS – Line: Alabama -13.5, Over/Under: 63.5
All eyes will be fixated on Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend, as the undefeated, top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide meet the Fourth-Ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game, a seismic matchup that figures to have MAJOR implications on the College Football Playoff, with the winner virtually guaranteed to cement a spot in the Top-Four. With that said, one could make a very convincing argument that Alabama (12-0,8-0 in SEC) will be in the Playoff regardless of the outcome of today’s contest, for the reigning National Champions have been every bit as dominant as they’ve been in each of the previous three campaigns, which saw the Crimson Tide selected by the CFP Committee. However, one look at this particular iteration of the Tide will lead you to believe that this team is a completely different animal than the one that preceded it. Since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa back in 2007, his Offense has typically been a physically-imposing, rushing juggernaut, but this time around, they’re led by a high-powered, explosive passing attack that has been lighting up SEC Defenses all year. This season, Alabama has averaged 49.0 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on a staggering 538.0 Total Yards, which is coincidentally the most yardage attributed to Saban’s Offense throughout his tenure with the program. The difference has been the Passing Game, led by Sophomore Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (70.3%, 3,189 YDS, 11.9 Y/A, 36 TD, 2 INT), the hero of last year’s National Championship Game, who has opened up a brand new chapter of the playbook with his impressive skillset. Make no bones about, folks, this kid is the total package, featuring elite arm strength that will make the most staunch NFL Scout salivate, along with vision and decision-making wise beyond his years, and on top of all of that, he has shown the ability to tuck the ball and run as well. ‘Bama’s 332.1 Passing Yards per Game is by far and away the most that the Offense has posted in any single season, and is nearly Forty-Yards better than the next highest figure, which is all due to the presence of Tagovailoa. Furthermore, the Heisman front-runner’s Thirty-Six Passing Touchdowns are already a single-season school record, while his 212.5 Passer Rating is on track to set an new NCAA Record. Given the ridiculous volume of talent that Saban has managed to recruit on an annual basis, he’s never had a Quarterback like this, which must be the nightmare of every other coach in the Southeastern Conference. Oh, and while we all lose ourselves in Tua Mania, the Defense is still a force to be reckoned with; on the season, Alabama has allowed just 13.8 Points per Game (3rd Overall) on 283.1 Total Yards, including 168.2 Yards against the Pass on 50.6% passing, and another 114.9 Yards versus the Run on 3.3 Yards per Carry, all the while amassing Forty Sacks and forcing Twenty-One Turnovers. Despite yielding at least 115 Rushing Yards in five of their first six games of the year, the Crimson Tide have tightened things up considerably on this side of the football, relegating the opposite to 93.7m Rushing Yards, though that statistic is misleading due the puzzling 275 Yards allowed to The Citadel. At one point, Saban’s charges held four straight opponents to Seventy Yards or fewer, including a combined Fifty-Six Yards in successive shutouts of LSU (29-0) and Mississippi State (24-0). In last weekend’s annual Iron Bowl meeting with instate rival Auburn, the defending National Champions permitted the Tigers to gain 130 Yards on the ground, though kept them in check on a scant 3.0 Yards per Carry, with their longest run being just Nine Yards. Quinnen Williams (58 TKL, 16.0 TFL, 7.0 SK, 1 PD), Isaiah Buggs (38 TKL, 12.5 TFL, 9.5 SK, 3 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR), and Raekwon Davis (47 TKL, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 SK) are monsters along the Defensive Line, while Linebackers Dylan Moses (70 TKL, 10.0 TFL, 3.5 SK, 1 PD, 1 FF) and Christian Miller (30 TKL, 10.0 TFL, 7.0 SK, 1 PD, 1 FR) range sideline to sideline behind them, with Defensive Back Deionte Thompson (62 TKL, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR) looking like a foregone conclusion for All-America.
Meanwhile, as important as today’s showdown is for the reigning Champions, it’s exponentially more important for Georgia (11-1, 8-1 in SEC), who will only return to the College Football Playoff with a win in the SEC Championship Game. With Michigan getting embarrassed last weekend, the Bulldogs managed to sneak into the Top-Four largely on the strength of their recent string of performances since suffering their only loss of the campaign, a 16-36 defeat at LSU. Since then, Kirby Smart’s charges have won five consecutive contests by an average margin of 23.2 Points per Game, thanks in large part to a punishing Rushing Attack that has left the opposition trampled in their wake. On the season, they’re averaging a robust 260.3 Rushing Yards on a very healthy 6.3 Yards per Carry, and over the final five games of the term, they’ve cranked that up with 308.0 Yards per Game on 6.9 Yards per Carry. Five different Tailbacks have totaled at least 260 Yards on the ground, with the dynamic duo of D’Andre Swift (139 CAR, 962 YDS, 6.9 Y/C, 9 TD) and Elijah Holyfield (133 CAR, 896 YDS, 6.7 Y/C, 7 TD) averaging 154.8 Rushing Yards combined. In fact, Swift and Holyfield have an outside chance of replicating the production of last year’s tandem, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who each passed the 1,000-Yard threshold. Expect these guys to factor heavily into the gameplan against the Crimson Tide, for rushing the football worked rather well before things ultimately went off the rails in the second half; Georgia controlled the game in the first half when they entered intermission with a 13-0 lead, in route to rushing for 133 Yards and a Touchdown on Forty-Five Carries. Swift, who has racked up at least 100 Yards in four of his last five outings was far from impactful in last year’s fateful matchup, gaining just Fifteen Yards on Four Carries. And then there is Jake Fromm (69.1%, 2,236 YDS, 9.6 Y/A, 24 TD, 5 INT), the Sophomore Quarterback who was initially pegged to enroll at Alabama, only to scorn the Tide and head to Athens instead. As a True Freshman, Fromm was everything that Smart and his Staff could have asked for in 2017, leading the Bulldogs to their first SEC Championship in well over a decade, and within mere moments of their first National Championship since 1980. The young Signal-Caller wasn’t particular impressive in last year’s National Final (particularly throughout the Second Half and Overtime), completing just 16-of-32 Passes for 232 Yards, a Touchdown and a pair of Interceptions in the 23-26 defeat. However, as a Sophomore, Fromm has exerted far better control on this run-heavy Offense, completing a far higher percentage of his passes (69.1%), which would be a school record, and benefiting from the rushing attack by attacking downfield, averaging a healthy 9.6 Yards per Attempt. When we last saw him, Fromm put forth arguably his finest performance of the campaign in Georgia’s 45-21 thrashing of instate rival Georgia Tech last weekend, tossing Four Touchdowns on the day. There is no doubt that he and his teammates would all absolutely relish another shot at the Crimson Tide after last year’s heartbreaking end to the National Championship Game. If Georgia finds a way to win this matchup, then they can book their trip to the Playoff, though it remains to be seen what exactly they can take from last year’s showdown, for this year’s Alabama has been a very different beast altogether in comparison to their predecessor. Since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa back in 2007, Georgia has only managed to best them once in five tries, and that was back in his first season with Tide, with their last two defeats coming in the postseason.