Who wins the rematch?
The College Football Playoff championship game is set for 8 p.m. ET Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. No. 1 Alabama meets No. 3 Georgia in a rematch of the SEC championship game, which the Crimson Tide won 41-24.
The Bulldogs are 2.5-points favorites, however, and it’s a chance for Kirby Smart to lead Georgia to its first national championship since 1980. Alabama is looking for its seventh national championship under Nick Saban. The stakes are high in this all-SEC showdown.
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Sporting News’ staff gives their picks for the College Football Playoff championship game:
CFP championship picks Bill Bender: Alabama 27, Georgia 24
Remember, Georgia was up 10-0 in the first meeting before Bryce Young hit Jameson Williams for a 67-yard TD. That reversed the course of the game. The Bulldogs’ defense looked angry against Michigan, and Alabama will have to run the ball better with John Metchie III out and a beat-up secondary. Stetson Bennett will stick to that script early, and Georgia could lead into the third quarter. It’s going to be tight, but Young remains the X-factor. A fourth-quarter TD to Williams gives Alabama the lead, and they hold on. A field goal either way could decide this one, and perhaps Will Reichard plays the role of hero. Alabama, much to Georgia’s chagrin, wins it all again.
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Bill Trocchi: Georgia 27, Alabama 20
You put yourself in position enough times, you are eventually going to break through. The obvious storyline is how Georgia is going to put pressure on Young, something it failed to do in the first matchup. Alabama showed off a potent running game against Cincinnati, but that is not going to work against the Bulldogs. The Tide will have to throw the ball, and Georgia is going to have to pressure Young and have fewer breakdowns in the secondary. If that happens, Alabama is going to have trouble scoring more than 20 points like the rest of Georgia’s opponents. Can Georgia score enough against the Tide? It had 24 points in the first matchup, and has scored an average of 24.8 points in the four Smart-Saban matchups. That should be enough to win. Georgia has blown double-digit leads in three of those games, and Smart still scares me with his in-game management, but the time is now for Georgia to take the crown.
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Zac Al-Khateeb: Alabama 30, Georgia 20
It’s true Georgia enjoyed a return to dominance in its 34-11 Orange Bowl demolition of Michigan. Also true: Alabama wasn’t nearly as impressive in its 27-6 win over Cincinnati, considered the weakest of the four playoff teams. But Alabama’s defense only gave up two scores — both field goals — on pre-scripted drives. The offense didn’t need to open up its playbook against the Bearcats, opting to enforce an old-school rushing attack instead of testing All-American corners Coby Bryant and Ahmad Gardner. It was a completely different strategy than the one the Crimson Tide used against the Bulldogs, one that shows no one is better than Saban at game-planning around opponents’ exploitable weaknesses on a week-to-week basis. Expect him to find them again against Georgia in a narrower victory.
Mike DeCourcy: Alabama 28, Georiga 21
I’m still not entirely certain whether Georgia presented its best look against Alabama — not because of some rope-a-dope strategy to pay off in this championship game, but more so because there was no way the Bulldogs ever could be as motivated as the Tide were when they met the first time. Alabama was playing for its life; UGa was playing for a trophy. Now, the question of existence is equal for both teams. If the two most important positions on any team, though, are head coach and quarterback, Alabama has an enormous advantage with both. That makes it terribly difficult to pick against the Tide. The closest Georgia’s magnificent defense came to stopping a “great” attack was in the semifinals against Michigan, and this is how “great” the Wolverines were on the year: 26th among Division I teams. Alabama is fifth, and features Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. It’s close enough that a break or fumble could swing this, but it just feels ridiculous to pick against Saban.
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Vinnie Iyer: Alabama 34, Georgia 27
Kirby Smart might have the intelligent-sounding last name, but Nick Savant … er Saban .. won’t be losing to one of his former defensive assistants in a game like this with a superior young Heisman winning QB outdueling another QB whose first name is a hat and full name sounds like a character on “Yellowstone.” Offense wins championships in the 21st century, not some archaic battle of attrition. Georgia got away with that vs. pedestrian Michigan and that won’t work again against Alabama. Saban knows this and that makes him “Smart-er” then his far situational inferior counterpart. Saban also knows this would be championship No. 7 and will troll the SEC also-rans by his team winning exactly by that many points. “Underdogs” win, Dawgs lose and elephants are awesome.
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Matt Lutovsky: Georgia 27, Alabama 24
It might seem crazy picking Georgia just a month after the Tide beat down the Bulldogs, but Georgia didn’t show any ill effects from that loss during its dismantling of Michigan. If anything, UGA looked more determined than ever to bounce back and earn its first national title since 1980. Standing in the way is an old foe, and while it’s easy to claim Alabama “owns” Georgia, eventually, breakthroughs happen. This is the year for Georgia, which sports a better defense, a better rushing attack, and a stellar ball-control passing game with tight end Brock Bowers. The loss of Metchie, who had 97 yards and a TD in their first meeting before injuring his knee, will hurt the Tide, and while they still have several offensive playmakers, Georgia will learn from its previous mistakes and do just enough to squeak this one out and finally get over the hump.