In a season punctuated by many surprises, the college football season will finish on Jan. 8 with a matchup of two SEC teams: Alabama and Georgia. Georgia, ranked third in the country going into the playoffs, defeated Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and No. 2 Oklahoma in double overtime on New Year’s Day in a Rose Bowl for the ages. In the Sugar Bowl later than evening, No. 4 Alabama defeated No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in dominating fashion in order to earn their spot in the national championship game.
Being from the same conference, both teams have played many of the same teams, and even suffered their only losses of the season to the same team: Auburn. However, both teams lost playing away games at Auburn, which demonstrates the importance of home field advantage. In the case of the championship, both teams should have a considerable number of fans given that the game is in Atlanta. However, as the game is being played in their home state, expect the Georgia Bulldogs to have somewhat of a home field advantage.
On offense, the Bulldogs are led by true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, as well as a stellar pair of running backs in seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb and Michel, both of whom came back for their senior year instead of heading to the NFL, did so in order to win a national championship, and will have extra motivation with the championship being their final collegiate game.
Fromm was brought in to relieve injured starting quarterback Jacob Eason early in the first game of the season against Appalachian State, leading the team to a 31-10 victory. Fromm started the next week in a tough away game against Notre Dame, and continued playing so well that, when Eason returned, Fromm officially replaced him. Fromm’s success is in part due to the playmaker Georgia has at wide receiver in Javon Wims, who, even in a run-first offense, has managed over 700 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
Alabama is led by sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts who at the beginning of the season was a Heisman candidate. He came up short, but still has managed to throw for 2125 yards and 17 touchdowns, all while only throwing one interception, an astounding feat. In addition to these numbers, Hurts has rushed for 808 yards and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. Hurts played in the national championship last year, and while suffering a loss to Clemson, he earned the experience of playing under the lights of a big game. He has returned to the championship with a chip on his shoulder, and these two factors may give him the poise, experience and drive he needs to lead his team to victory.
In addition to Hurts’ quarterback play, the Tide have a pair of running backs of their own in Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough. The two have combined for 1,556 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns However those numbers do not come close to Chubb and Michel’s 2,449 yards and 31 touchdowns, so Georgia has the clear advantage in their run game.
But Alabama has a playmaker on the outside of their own in Calvin Ridley, who has hauled in 59 receptions for 935 yards and four touchdowns, and clearly is able to match UGA’s Javon Wims.
The offensive side of the ball seems pretty much even, with both quarterbacks seemingly equal but for Hurt’s experience of playing in the national championship last year. Georgia seems to have an advantage on the ground, while in the wide receiving core the stats on both sides are very similar.
On defense, both teams shine. Georgia has a star in linebacker Roquan Smith, who won the Butkus award which is given to the nation’s best linebacker each year. Complementing him are linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, as well as defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter and defensive back Dominick Sanders. Despite giving up an uncharacteristic number of points to a high powered Oklahoma offense in the Rose Bowl, the Dawgs have been a stout defense and rank sixth in the country in total defense.
But their counterpart Alabama has been stellar on defense, with the Tide ranked first in the country in total defense, even while battling injury. With most players back, including middle linebacker Mac Wilson, the Tide hope to improve their already strong defense with the help of future first round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. While both teams have great defenses, Alabama edges out Georgia slightly.
The national championship game features two teams that are very similar, both in styles of play and schedule, and in terms of the stars they have on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The teams are well-matched, but the poise and chip of Jalen Hurts along with Alabama’s many players returning from injury to complete an already good defense, will likely be too much for the Bulldogs, giving Alabama its fifth championship in the past five years. The game, to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday at 8 p.m., will air on ESPN.