College Football National Championship Game Expert Picks: Alabama vs. Georgia
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Georgia Bulldogs, Monday Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET
So, we go through the whole College Football Playoff process - the rankings, the debates, the drama, and the semifinals - and what are we left with? A regular-season SEC game. Georgia and Alabama didn't play in the regular season, and they didn't play in the SEC Championship Game, but they could have. Fans of the SEC will tell you that this just shows you which conference tops them all. For everyone else, that thought makes you feel sick. While it may not be the most exotic or inspiring matchup, there is no shortage of storylines. So, which team is going to be the fourth champion of the CFP?
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CFP National Championship Game Betting Storylines
Before we get to the things that matter in this game, let's deal quickly with one that doesn't because it's driving me crazy. I have seen a lot of people saying lately that Georgia is in an advantageous position because they play this game in-state and just 70 miles from home. That's just ridiculous. They are closer, but Tuscaloosa is just 200 miles away by Interstate, and the Tide fans travel very well. Geography is irrelevant.
The obvious starting point in analyzing this game is the coaching. We have rarely, if ever, seen two staffs so close fighting it out for a prize like this. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was, until two years ago, Nick Saban's right-hand man through three stops - LSU, the Dolphins and Alabama. He knows how Saban thinks and how he prepares more than any coach out there, and vice versa. Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker spent a year at Alabama before coming to Georgia as well. And Alabama defensive coordinator - and new head coach of Tennessee - Jeremy Pruitt was the DC at Tennessee for the two years before Smart took over. Both staffs have intimate knowledge of the personnel of the other teams and with the coaching staffs of other teams. Games like this are always a chess match between the coaches, but in this case it's like both chess players know all the other team's moves. It should make for some very interesting strategizing and some risks as both squads try to avoid predictability.
Georgia's dynamic running back duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb just ran amok against Oklahoma, amassing 326 yards combined and really being the difference in that crazy game. Oklahoma views defensive as mostly optional, though, so the Bulldogs are in for a much different test here. The Tide ranked first nationally against the run, allowing just 92.8 yards per game. And now Alabama is back to full health in the linebacker corps after dealing with some injuries in the second half of the season. Georgia QB Jake Fromm is coming off one of his best games, but if he doesn't have the running game to work then with the pressure will be all on him - a thought that has to terrify the Bulldogs and delight Alabama with defensive super-stud Minkah Fitzpatrick keying an Alabama secondary that could feast on a faltering Fromm. You can be sure that this running matching will be a key focus of game preparation.
Alabama QB Jalen Hurts is a bit of an enigma. When you watch him, he doesn't do a whole lot to excite or inspire, and I have never heard a serious Heisman reference regarding him. But this is his second year as a starter and his second national title game appearance. Georgia has a very stout defense, and is better against the pass than the run, so you can be sure they will be looking to get to Hurts as much as possible. It's really the biggest chink in the Alabama armor - which tells you how few flaws this team really has.
What's really striking about this game is how evenly matched the teams are. In both semifinal games there were areas where one team or the other had a clear edge. In this game, though, that's not the case. Georgia's run game is matched by Alabama's defensive strength. Alabama's offense meets a solid Georgia defense. And so on - everywhere you look you have a strength-against-strength matchup. I don't know that this is the matchup that a ton of people will begging for, but it certainly is intriguing.
CFP National Championship Game Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by 4.5 points. After bouncing around a little it has settled at 3.5 at this point . A small majority of bets have been placed on the Tide, so the movement suggests that sharp money has been on Georgia in early action. The total opened as high as 47 and now sits at 44.
The Tide are 5-1 ATS in their last six neutral-site games but just 1-4 ATS in their last five games in January and 1-5 ATS in their last six conference games. The Bulldogs have covered the spreads in both their last four games overall and their last four bowl games. They are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 conference games and 5-2 ATS in their last seven games in January. The underdog has covered the spread in the last four meetings between these teams, and five of the last six games have gone "over" the total.
Alabama vs. Georgia CFP National Championship game Expert Picks & Predictions
I told myself as soon as the Tide moved ahead of Clemson for what seemed like good that I would take them at any price less than a TD in this game. And here we are well under that number. Alabama's defense is really dialed in and is going to be able to take this Georgia offense out of things for long stretches of the game. Smart is doing a great job, but Saban is smarter and more experienced, and he won't be ready to be shown up by his former assistant just yet. I was unsure what Alabama was going to offer heading into the playoffs, but they just decimated a very good Clemson team. Georgia's defense had a rough day in the Rose Bowl, and they are somewhat tougher to trust. Alabama is the pick against the spread.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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