For the second straight season, the SEC Championship Game will likely serve as a de facto national quarterfinal. No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Georgia will tee it up Saturday afternoon in Mercedes-Benz Stadium — the same venue where the Crimson Tide stunned the Bulldogs in overtime to claim the 2017 national championship. Will history repeat itself, or will Georgia get revenge and claim a spot in the College Football Playoff? Let’s break the game down and make a pick.
But first, a reminder. The 2018 SEC Championship Game will air live nationally on CBS and stream live on CBSSports.com, the CBS Sports App and fuboTV (try for free) beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The Bulldogs are led by sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, who is third in the nation with a passer rating at 179.41 and eighth in completion percentage at 69.1. Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin, Jeremiah Holloman and tight end Isaac Nauta have given Fromm plenty of options, and the running back corps led by D’Andre Swift has thrived — especially over the last month.
Georgia’s front seven has been better of late but not where it needs to be if it wants to win the national title. The Bulldogs are tied for 12th in the SEC in sacks with just 20 on the season, dead last in tackles for loss with 52 and only one player — linebacker D’Andre Walker — has more than 1.5 sacks on the season. The secondary led by Deandre Baker is solid and experienced, but it hasn’t gotten much help up front.
Alabama is just the second team ever to win its first 12 games by 20 or more points (Yale, 1888), and it’s primarily due to Tua Tagovailoa’s emergence as the best quarterback in the country. The sophomore has 36 touchdowns and just two interceptions, leads the nation in passer rating at 212.51, and is on pace to post the most efficient season in college football history over former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy campaign of 2017. Tagovailoa has help, though. Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Irv Smith, Jr. provide him plenty of options, and the running back corps of Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs is one of the best in the sport.
Defensively, lineman Quinnen Williams has become one of the best players in the nation and is a disruptive force up the middle. When you add in Isaiah Buggs, Dylan Moses and the rest of the front seven, it’s the same old Alabama defense — just with some different faces.
Georgia will win if … the defensive front has its best day. Tagovailoa has been nearly unflappable, but the leg injuries became an issue down the stretch. If Georgia can get in the backfield and the pressure gets home, that injury could come into play. If Tagovailoa has time in the pocket, he will pick any team apart — even a secondary as good as that of Georgia.
Alabama will win if … it shuts down the run. The Bulldogs running game has picked up of late thanks to the emergence (and health) of star Swift. He has topped the 100-yard mark in four of the last five games, with the UMass game being the only outlier down the stretch. His ability to make plays as a runner and receiver, combined with Elijah Holyfield’s ability to break tackles, makes Georgia’s rushing attack dangerous. If Williams, Buggs and Co. can stop them on, Fromm won’t be able to work off play-action and the entire Bulldogs offense will crumble.
It’s a big spread, which makes picking Georgia seem quite tasty. Don’t take a bite out of it, though. Both of these teams are very, very good — perhaps two of the four best teams in the country. But Alabama is on the verge of becoming the best college football team of all time, and Georgia won’t derail that. It’ll be low-scoring early, the Bulldogs running game will have more success than anticipated and they’ll have a chance in the second half. But when Alabama pours it on, it’s like a firehose. The receivers will get loose late and lead to a Crimson Tide win and cover. Pick: Alabama (-13)
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