No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama will settle it all at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday in the 30th edition of the SEC Championship Game, one of the more highly anticipated league title battles each season. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will likely get two teams into the College Football Playoff. But if the Bulldogs win -- and they are favored by nearly a touchdown, according to Caesars Sportsbook -- they will enter the CFP as the No. 1 seed and an overwhelming favorite to give the conference its third different undefeated national champion in the last three seasons.
Georgia's 12-0 record and dominance of nearly everyone on its schedule this season puts sixth-year coach Kirby Smart in prime position to knock off Alabama for the first time in his tenure; he's 0-3 against his former boss Nick Saban to this point. It would also put the Dawgs in prime position to win their first national title since 1980.
These teams last met in the 2020 regular season when Alabama rallied from a halftime deficit to win 41-24 en route to a 13-0 season and national title. But the Crimson Tide's offense is not the unstoppable juggernaut it was last season, and the Georgia defense has emerged as the best unit on either side of the ball in the country.
Alabama will be the toughest team Georgia has played this season, however, and if the Bulldogs are looking ahead to the CFP, the Tide have enough talent to hand Georgia its first loss.
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Alabama vs. Georgia: Need to know
Tables turned: A common refrain emerging from Alabama's win over Georgia last season was that the Bulldogs could not become a championship-caliber team with Stetson Bennett at quarterback. He completed just 18 of 40 passes in the game and threw three interceptions. But here the Bulldogs are a year later as the nation's clear No. 1 with Bennett back under center. Pressed into duty amid an injury to JT Daniels early in the season, Bennett has taken the starting job and refused to let it go.
Beating Alabama with Bennett at quarterback would be the ultimate sign of arrival for Georgia. Alabama has modernized its offense in recent years, moving away from game managers at quarterback and electrifying its offense with tempo and elite skill players. If Georgia beat a modern Alabama team with Bennett, who is a slightly more mobile version of the homegrown quarterbacks the Crimson Tide used early in Saban's tenure, it would show the Bulldogs have simply recruited and developed their way to mastering Saban's original championship formula.
Dominant defense: Alabama struggled offensively last week against Auburn before squeaking out a 24-22 victory in the fourth overtime. Handling Georgia's defense will be significantly more difficult for the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs are tied for fourth nationally with 41 sacks, while Alabama is tied for 108th nationally in sacks allowed with 35.
If Georgia is able to sack Bryce Young and keep Alabama behind the chains, the outcome could depend on who wins key third-and-long plays. The Crimson Tide convert on 46.5% of their third-down plays requiring 7 or more yards, which is the best percentage in the country. But Georgia only allows opponents to convert on 18.5% of such third-and-long plays. The Crimson Tide are likely to struggle in establishing the run against a Georgia defense allowing just 2.49 yards per carry. So the Crimson Tide will need to convert some third-and-long plays to sustain drives.
Value in a close loss: There may be value in a close loss for Alabama, which could still have a chance to qualify for the CFP as a two-loss team if some breaks go its way. Getting in with two losses would likely require Oklahoma State to lose against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game and for Cincinnati to lose against Houston in the AAC title game. Even then, there would be no guarantee that Alabama would make it.
But as this game progresses, it'll be worth remembering that there could be value in a narrow defeat. Georgia is regarded as a superior team, and if the Crimson Tide show they are competitive with the Bulldogs, it will give the CFP selection committee something to think about, whereas a blowout loss would likely seal Alabama's fate.
Alabama vs. Georgia prediction, picks
Georgia's defense is dominant and physical enough to overpower Alabama's offense line to pressure Young and stifle a Crimson Tide running game that has struggled at times this season. Georgia is not a prolific offensive team, but Alabama's defense has shown weaknesses this season — especially in the secondary — that the Bulldogs should be able to capitalize on. Expect Georgia to frustrate Alabama by forcing sacks or turnovers en route to a victory. Prediction: Georgia (-6.5)
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