College Football Playoff NCAAF

2018 CFP National Championship Preview

The regular season is over, bowl season has come and gone, and only one game remains in the 2017-18 college football season. A season full of twists and turns will culminate in an all SEC final. In Atlanta, Georgia the Alabama Crimson Tide will square off against the Georgia Bulldogs for the 2018 National Championship. I for one couldn’t be more excited, having been deprived of this matchup during the regular reason. And for all of the debate surrounding the playoff committee’s selections, it seems they have ultimately gotten things right. It is tough to debate that these are truly two of the best teams in the country, and have been all season long. Anyone still doubting this notion need only look at both the results of the semifinals and the fact that neither Alabama nor Georgia spent a single single week outside of the top 7 of the CFP rankings (the only other teams to do so were semifinalists Clemson and Oklahoma). But what is tough to debate is who will come out on top in this matchup of similarly structured teams. What Kirby Smart has done at Georgia is essentially recreate Alabama. Nick Saban’s former assistant’s team places a similar emphasis on a staunch defense and running the football. This has always been to blueprint for success at Alabama, and it is a gameplan that Kirby Smart has clearly adopted at Georgia. It is hard to imagine anyone beating Nick Saban at his own game. Furthermore, we all know about Nick Saban’s spotless record against his former assistants. Nevertheless, if any team in the country has the tools to get the job done against the Tide it may be the Bulldogs.

Georgia will bring to Atlanta, what is regarded as the best backfield in the country. In Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Dawgs have a fire and ice combo with very different skillsets. Michel is fast and shifty, whereas Chubb is more of a hard nosed runner with a penchant for breaking tackles. Depending on which philosophy is working better against the Tide, Georgia will have a number of options to explore in the ground game. Lest we forget about the aptly named Deandre Swift, and Elijah Holyfield who may also be in the mix. But will this plethora of talented backs be enough to get the better of Alabama’s rushing defense? Conventional wisdom holds that nobody runs on Bama, and for good reason. Thus far only one player this season has been able to do so with any real success. This player is a man who the Bulldogs will know well: Auburn star and SEC leading rusher Kerryon Johnson. Johnson torched Georgia in their first matchup to the tune of 167 yards. In the Iron Bowl, Johnson again managed over 100 yards (but at a far less efficent 3.5 yards per carry). Albeit against an Alabama defense depleted by injuries particularly at the linebacker position. Despite the fact that Georgia’s offense features two of the top five rushers in the SEC, it will be no small feat to run an Alabama defense that will be far healthier than it was in November. Running against Alabama is a whole different animal than running against Oklahoma. Where the Sooners’ defense is Swiss cheese, the Tide’s defense is a brick wall. The fight for the line of scrimmage between Georgia’s offensive line and Alabama’s defensive will also obviously be a key determinant. If the bulldogs can establish the run, I like their chances. Needless to say that is a big if.

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If the Bulldogs can’t get the job done on the ground, they may be forced to rely on true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has proven to be a very capable starter in only his first year on campus. The kid has been beyond competent in guiding the Bulldogs to their best season in recent memory. He will have the chance to develop into one of college football’s best quarterbacks before his tenure in Athens is over. However, how confident can anyone truly be in a freshman quarterback against the preeminent defense in the country.  Fromm is coming off a clutch performance against Oklahoma in the semifinals. Fromm notably led the Bulldogs drive down the field against the Sooners to tie the game late. Despite this display of remarkable composure and poise, I wouldn’t expect more of the same against Alabama. As I mentioned before, Alabama’s defense is leaps and bounds better than Oklahoma’s. Life as passer will be incredibly difficult against defensive backs the caliber of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace. Alabama’s pass rush will likely provide a similar rude awakening for the Georgia quarterback. Anyone who has watched the semifinal against Clemson, will be aware of how good defensive tackle Da’ron Payne is. Beyond Payne, Da’Shawn Hand, Rashaan Evans, Isaiah Buggs, Raekwon Davis and company will inevitably be able to get pressure to the quarterback. Look what they were able to do to a very mobile Kelly Bryant. The Tide enveloped Bryant sacking him five times and forcing two interceptions. If they can do that to a mobile quarterback, God only knows what will happen to Jake Fromm when he’s sitting in the pocket. Luckily for Fromm he does have a talented receiving core in Javon Wimms, Terry, Godwin, and Isaac Nauta (plus an array of pass catching backs). Yet I’m fairly certain even that won’t be enough to get anything significant accomplished in this game through the air. If Georgia is to have any success on the offensive side of the football, it will be on the ground, rather than through the air.

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By now we’ve discussed at length the matchup between Georgia’s offense and Alabama’s defense. But perhaps equally as fascinating is the matchup between Alabama’s offense and Georgia’s defense. With Jalen Hurts at the helm, Alabama’s offense hasn’t exactly been prolific. Hurts is very athletic and thus is a weapon as a scrambler. But quite frankly he’s not the best pocket passer. Though he hasn’t needed to be. The Tide have so much talent around him on both offense and defense, that Hurts has often needed only to protect the football.  Hurts will make fantastic plays with his legs for sure. Furthermore, Calvin Ridley will repeatedly burn the opposition’s secondary and provide big play opportunities. Yet the most important part of Alabama’s offense is an always will be their running game. Like Georgia, Alabama’s group of running backs is one of the best in the country. Most of the country know about Bo Scarborough, the tank of a human being that he is. His performances throughout the playoffs last year put the entire nation on notice. Under the radar, has been Damien Harris’s consistency the last few years. Two years running he’s led the Tide in rushing yards, and he’s on pace for another 1000 yard season. Moreover, we’ve already talked about Jalen Hurts’s capability as a runner. But lets also not forget about Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs waiting in the wings. Overall this isn’t a high octane big 12 offense like Oklahoma, but they have more than enough weapons to hurt you. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to succeed against a top 6 defense in the country.

Georgia may have the most talented group of linebackers in the country with Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, and Lorenzo Carter. Trenton Thompson is also an elite pass rusher at defensive tackle. So there should be no question about how formidable Georgia’s front seven is. Smith in particular was instrumental in neutralizing Oklahoma in the second half of last week’s semifinal.  Deandre Baker is also a top flight talent at cornerback. Nevertheless, the fact that Oklahoma hung 48 points on them last week doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Particularly given that Rodney Anderson exploded for 200 yards against a Georgia defense thought to be stout against the run. Ultimately my intuition is that whoever is able to run the ball more effectively should have the upper hand in this game.

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If you’re still reading this, it is more than obvious by now that I’m more confident in Alabama than Georgia. Years of watching college football has taught me that you don’t get rich betting against Alabama. It’s no slight against Georgia, I simply have a hard time imagining anyone beating Alabama. Although credit to me, I did pick Auburn in the Iron Bowl. On the rare occasion that someone does beat Alabama, it is usually on the back of an otherworldly individual performance a la Johnny Manziel, DeShaun Watson, Ezekiel Elliot, Kerryon Johnson. In particular, the common denominator generally seems to be an elite running back or dual threat quarterback. For that reason, many people believe Baker Mayfield and the Sooners may have been better suited to topple the Tide. And while that may be the case, I am not completely discounting the Bulldogs. Those that know me will realize that the Dawgs are my favorite team to root for besides Notre Dame. Moreover, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are more than capable of coming up with the type of performance that it takes to beat Alabama. I just wouldn’t bet on that, even with my colleague Preston’s money. Everything in my brain is telling me to roll with the Tide. So forgive me Georgia fans, but I gotta’ say it, “Roll Damn Tide”!!!

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