Not sure if you heard or not, but the SEC is good. And college football’s best conference is assured of having a chance to defend its streak of six straight national titles. The winner of Saturday’s SEC title game at the Georgia Dome between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia will face No. 1 Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in Miami. No offense to Georgia, but if it’s Bama-Notre Dame, it might set a TV ratings record – it might regardless just because it’s the Irish. The latest odds on Sportsbook.ag have Notre Dame at +10 vs. the Tide and +3 vs. the Dawgs.
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Even though Alabama is the defending National Champion, this is its first SEC title game since upsetting No. 1 Florida and Tim Tebow in 2009. Georgia reached its first SEC Championship since 2005 last year and outplayed LSU for a half before being routed after intermission. While the stakes for the winner Saturday are obvious, the outlook isn’t good for the loser as it probably will be headed to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day. That’s because No. 4 Florida almost assuredly will rise to No. 3 in the BCS standings on Sunday and, thus, be guaranteed a BCS bowl berth – likely the Sugar. Because only two teams from one conference are BCS bowl eligible that leaves the SEC title game loser on the outside looking in. UGA hasn’t played in a BCS bowl since the Sugar five years ago.
It might surprise you to know these clubs haven’t met since 2008. Nick Saban has a 3-2 edge head-to-head vs. Mark Richt, but two of Saban’s wins came when he was coaching in Baton Rouge. Back in that ’08 meeting, Georgia had an eight-game winning streak vs. ranked teams snapped by the Tide. Since then, the Dawgs have won just seven of their past 21 against Top-25 teams and three of their past 11. But UGA got the one win necessary this year by upsetting No. 2 Florida in Gainesville, which essentially made up for the Dawgs’ 35-7 blowout loss to No. 6 South Carolina earlier this season. Beating ranked teams is nothing new for Bama. It has won eight of its past 10 vs. Top-25 teams – the losses coming in that epic regular-season game vs. LSU last year and then the Johnny Manziel-led upset by A&M this season. “Johnny Football” should thank that game during his speech when he accepts the Heisman next weekend in New York.
Alabama vs. Georgia Betting Storylines
Expect a defensive struggle typical of when the SEC’s best teams face off. Alabama leads the nation in scoring defense and total defense. But, with all due respect to the Tide, the three best defensive players on the field Saturday probably are Dawgs: linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo. UGA’s defense didn’t start the season well, but those latter two were suspended (as were a few others on that side of the ball). In the past five games, UGA is allowing 8.6 points per game. In fairness, three of the teams in those five stink (Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia Southern), but that group forced six Florida turnovers and two more vs. Georgia Tech.
Offensively, Georgia QB Aaron Murray has gaudy numbers, leading the country with a 177.1 rating. He has thrown for 3,201 yards (first SEC QB ever with three straight 3,000-yard seasons), 30 scores and seven picks. But Murray hasn’t been good against top-flight SEC defenses. In last season’s SEC title game vs. LSU, he was 16-of-40 for 163 yards, one TD and two picks. In the loss to South Carolina, he completed 35.5 percent of his passes for 109 yards with a pick. And against Florida, Murray was 12-of-24 for 150 yards with one TD and three picks.
Part of the problem, this season at least, is that the Dawgs lost two starting receivers during the year to season-ending injuries. So UGA will likely have to rely big on the freshman “Gurshall” running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who have combined for more than 1,800 yards and 22 scores. Good luck against that No. 2 Alabama rush defense (77.0 ypg).
Meanwhile, Murray’s counterpart A.J. McCarron has performed well in big games. He was the Offensive MVP of last year’s national title game, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 234 yards and, most important, no turnovers. He had two TDs and no picks in the season-opener against Michigan, which went on to have the country’s top pass defense. McCarron also didn’t turn the ball over in this year’s LSU game and calmly led the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, throwing the winning screen pass TD. The Tide’s only loss was the only game this season in which he threw a pick – two, actually, vs. A&M. McCarron is averaging one interception every 91.6 attempts in his career and this year it’s one every 132.5 attempts, which would set an SEC record (minimum 200 attempts). He is the No. 2-rated QB nationally behind Murray.
McCarron also has some receiver problems. The Tide were hit there with season-ending injuries even before the year and then lost Kenny Bell last week to a broken leg. He only had 17 catches, but was the team’s big-play threat by averaging 25.4 yards with three TDs (including an 85-yarder). No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper is a stud, another Julio Jones, but he can’t do it by himself. Thus, Alabama now will likely have to burn the redshirt of touted freshman Chris Black.
Alabama vs. Georgia Betting Odds and Trends
At Sportsbook.ag, the Tide are seven-point favorites (-260 on moneyline) with the total at 50.5. Alabama is 6-6 ATS and 5-5-1 “over/under”. Georgia is 6-6 ATS and 5-6 O/U.
Bama is 6-0 ATS in its past six neutral-site games. The Tide are 1-4 ATS in their past five vs. teams with a winning record. Georgia is 2-5 ATS in its past seven neutral-site games and 2-5 in its past seven after an ATS win. The over is 6-1 ATS in Alabama’s past seven neutral-site games. The under is 6-0 ATS in Georgia’s past six games.
SEC Championship Game Predictions: Alabama vs. Georgia Betting Picks
This isn’t boxing or MMA where it’s helpful to compare how one fighter fared against another, but let’s do it anyways. These two teams faced the same five teams this season: SEC clubs Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn. And they also played Florida Atlantic. Average margin of victory for Bama was 32.8 points. For Georgia it was 25.8. There can be little argument that Bama played a tougher schedule overall, facing LSU, Michigan, Mississippi State and A&M. Georgia had Florida, South Carolina and not much else.
If I knew who was going to win here, I’d be in Vegas right now. But I do believe this Alabama defense is somewhat flawed. Both LSU and A&M put up more than 400 yards of offense on that group. And I think those three Dawgs defenders listed above will cause havoc on the Tide offense -- Alabama had five total turnovers vs. LSU and A&M. Take the points and the under.
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