In the early hours of Tuesday morning, while the vast majority of us snooze away, the biggest game in the College Football season will be underway.
Number 2 seeds Georgia Bulldogs take on number 4 seed Alabama. Both SEC heavyweights, Georgie plays in the East conference, ‘Bama the West.
‘Bama are creating a dynasty. The Dawgs are looking forward to laying the foundations.
However the Alabama connection is unmistakable.
Dawgs Head Coach, Kirby Smart until recently was the hugely successful defensive co-ordinator at Alabama. Smart was at Tuscaloosa for 8 years and heir apparent to the throne. During his time with the Tide, Smart oversaw the Bama defence in all of their 4 National Title wins under Nick Saban.
NIck Saban has secured 5 National Championships as a Head Coach. One of those while at LSU, the other four during his time at Alabama. This is his ninth season at Tuscaloosa, which in anybody’s books is a good return. He has also led the Crimson Tide to a further 3 Championship Play Off games further enhancing his reputation. A sixth win will equal him with the legendary Bear Bryant, Alabama God and whose statue looms large on the Tuscaloosa campus. A sixth national title would make Saban a living saint in Alabama. Although to be fair, he too now has a statue.
But yet it is the sorcerers apprentice who stands in his way. Georgia is a powerhouse in College ball, which in recent years had lost its way. What Kirby Smart has achieved in only two seasons is remarkable. While he made his reputation at ‘Bama and is a native of Alabama, his Alma Mater is Georgia where he played defensive end for the Dawgs. Returning to your Alma Mater in any capacity, let alone as Head Coach is a big deal and he knows it. His recruiting has been strong although he inherited a number of stars in the making. Seniors, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter are NFL superstars in waiting.
But he has fashioned a superb defensive unit, while adopting a run heavy offence which relies much on the dual threat of running backs Chubb and Michel. It is worth noting that while both will leave Georgia on Tuesday, Smart already has a ready made replacement in De’ Andre Swift who is tipped a better prospect than the twins of terror.
Alabama by contrast, and so used to being top Dawg (no pun intended), had not finished the regular season well, relying on Georgia beating Auburn to at least have a shot at a top four ranking.
Which happened. Georgia turned up and an Auburn side who had already beaten both Georgia and Alabama in the regular season decided this was a good time to expose their frailties to the world. Georgia beat Auburn and in the worst possible outcome for Auburn fans, the selection committee declared Alabama worthy of a play off place. Think “Man City beats Man Utd to let Liverpool take United’s spot in the cup” final kind of scenario.
Of course this caused howls of outrage all the way from Orlando to Columbus, Ohio, but as so often is the case the Selection Committee ruled on strength of schedule and the Tide’s so called “body of work”. The SEC won through.
All of this suggest the Dawgs, ranked higher than Alabama and the Vegas bookies favourites simply have to turn up to win the National Championship. But doing so would ignore not only Saint Nick’s incredible track record but also his and Alabama’s everlasting hunger and desire to win.
But Alabama has talent. QB Jaylen Hurts has won over some of his critics (not all), yet in his Sophomore year has found himself under more pressure than during his Freshman year with the emergence of wunderkind Tua Tagovailoa. TT’s talent is precocious and there for all to see. Often this season he has been rumoured as starter and it will only be a matter of time until we see his talent on a regular basis. This is not to say that Hurts has not performed. He has but under the microscope, his decision making and execution at times has been suspect. Hurts is a QB who does not like to stay in the pocket. We, and Saban, know how that usually ends.
But what of the rest of the Crimson Tide roster? It is hard to believe the conveyor belt of talent that Alabama sends to the NFL. In the 2017 draft, Alabama had four players taken in the first round alone. In 2017 the Crimson Tide produced 9 picks in the first 79. Putting this in some kind of perspective the whole of the Big 12 Conference had 3.
Yet this year Bama continues to have a strong running threat, despite King Derrick Henry strutting his stuff (well may I add) in Nashville with the Titans. To have a dual threat of Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris is a pretty good state of affairs given the hole that Henry’s absence would certainly have left. Calvin Ridley at Wide Receiver, has had a great season and is also one to watch.
But the star of the show is defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. One of those players who seems to be everywhere on the field, all of the time. Fitzpatrick has broken multiple school records in his junior year in Tuscaloosa. He was nominated for just about every award going this year this year and walked away with the impressive Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards, narrowly missing out on the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award. And if only Heisman did defence……
So the Championship Game scene is set nicely. Two sides with very strong defensive outfits. Two sides with supremely talented running games. Two quarterbacks still trying to find themselves. Two head coaches who knows the other inside out. A heavyweight bout if ever there was one.
The Mercedes Benz Stadium will be packed to the rafters with Red and Crimson and a Southern drawl buzzing from the stands. The only thing missing will be Scarlett and Rhett. But I haven’t yet heard who the halftime entertainment is.
Will it be the Sorcerer or his Apprentice who wins through? Saban is driven to win title number six and attain legendary status. However Smart knows all of the Old Dog’s tricks and has built a very, very good team. It will be fascinating watching. I only wish I was there.
Who will take the victors spoils? Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn (I do but that would spoil the tag line), as long as the game lives up to the hype. Otherwise UCF will have cause to order those Championship rings.
This guest piece was written by George Somerville who supports the Green Bay Packers and college team Alabama. You can follow George on @geosomerville.
Photo copyright: USA Today.