Alabama vs. Georgia: B/R's Expert Picks for the 2018 National Championship Game

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2018

Alabama vs. Georgia: B/R's Expert Picks for the 2018 National Championship Game

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    Da'Ron Payne and Jalen Hurts
    Da'Ron Payne and Jalen HurtsJamie Squire/Getty Images

    It doesn't get any bigger than the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, but the fact Monday night's game in Atlanta features two blue-blood SEC teams, Alabama and Georgia, adds a little extra spice. 

    Did you know there are 17 different ways to watch the game on the ESPN app? Seriously. We counted. There's the coaches film room, the "homers" telecast, the "cool room" (Bill Walton FTW), NFL Live, Data Center, two different SkyCams for some reason, the "normal" ESPN broadcast which most people will likely default to and several other options.

    It's kind of a big deal.

    But what is going to happen in the game being aired in a multitude of ways?

    Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller and Brad Shepard—had one meeting of the minds to offer up predictions for the natty.

    • Which QB has the better day?
    • Can Georgia run the ball even half as well as it did against Oklahoma?
    • What type of day will Calvin Ridley have for the Crimson Tide?
    • And, of course, what will the final score be?

    Our experts are on the case to let you know.

Which QB Has the Better Game: Jake Fromm or Jalen Hurts?

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    Jalen Hurts
    Jalen HurtsRusty Costanza/Associated Press

    David Kenyon (@Kenyon19_BR)

    I anticipate neither quarterback having an especially memorable game, but Hurts' mobility will be critical. Although Fromm was outstanding in the Rose Bowl, he'll spend much of the night trying to escape from constant pressure. I trust Hurts more in this spot, though not with supreme confidence. 

               

    Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs)

    Although I don’t expect either quarterback to be statically magnificent, give me Hurts. He wasn’t exactly spectacular against Clemson, but he was efficient enough. And for Fromm, I just really have a hard time getting Alabama’s defense from last Monday out of my mind. This was a completely different group than we had seen basically all season—perhaps since Florida State—and while I love his game, I think it’s a lot to ask out of a true freshman quarterback. That doesn’t mean Georgia can’t win, but I do see Hurts having a slight edge here. 

               

    Kerry Miller (@kerrancejames)

    To put it lightly, there won't be a Baker Mayfield-like performance from either QB. With the exception of one game against Missouri's atrocious defense, neither Fromm nor Hurts threw for more than 250 yards in a game this season. And neither one had more than two passing TDs in a game against an FBS opponent.

    Both of these young QBs are much more "game manager" than "gunslinger," but look for Hurts to do a little more managing in this one. He has one of the best receivers in the country at his disposal (Calvin Ridley), and every Alabama running back is a threat to make a reception out of the backfield. Plus, Hurts can impact the game with his legs. If he needs it, his edge in rushing yards will push him ahead of Fromm for the better overall performance.

               

    Brad Shepard (@Brad_Shepard)

    I'm going with Hurts simply because I think Alabama makes life miserable for Fromm all night. Let's face it: Neither quarterback is going to be asked to win the game for his respective team. For Alabama, that'll be the defense's responsibility. The Dawgs will lean on Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. So this is going to be about who minimizes mistakes and plays within himself as a game manager.

    Sound familiar? That's like every Alabama quarterback not named AJ McCarron in the Nick Saban era. Hurts will wind up completing something like 60 percent of his passes for 160 yards, but he'll stay within the framework of the offense. Fromm will have to do more through the air with UGA down in the second half, and that's a potential recipe for disaster.

Will Either Coach Have a Noticeable Impact on the Game?

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    Kirby Smart
    Kirby SmartJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Given the likelihood of a tight finish, it's reasonable to believe a fourth-down call will be remembered as a critical moment. Nick Saban is probably more comfortable making a risky choice than Kirby Smart, so I'll guess the master pulls one over on the student. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    This is a hard one to figure, although I do love some of the subtle things we've seen from Saban in huge moments. The onside kick against Clemson in the title game a few years ago. Giving defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne a rep on offense against Clemson on Monday, which Payne took advantage of with a touchdown reception. Saban has made some enormous calls that have strangely flown under the radar. He also has an impact on the game itself in terms of strategy and implementation more than any coach from any sport in my lifetime. Smart has done quite well in this department during his young head coaching career, without a doubt. But Alabama's biggest strength is always its coach, no matter how big or fast or gifted the group typically is. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    There will be a lot of hot air about the battle between the master (Saban) and the apprentice (Smart), but I don't imagine there will be any specific moments in which it feels like one screws up royally or outwits the other. This should be a conservative game of tug of war rather than one with trickery and risky decisions.

               

    Brad Shepard

    I love what Smart is doing at Georgia. He's going to have it playing consistently better than it ever has. There will be national championships in his future. But the first one won't come Monday night. Nobody beats the master at his own game, as evidenced by the fact Saban is 11-0 against former assistants. The impact Saban has comes in recruiting, discipline and preparation. The motivation stems from intensity from guys like defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and strength coach Scott Cochran. UGA will eventually get there, but this is just Smart's second year. Saban will lead his team to the win again.

Will Nick Chubb and Sony Michel Be Able to Find Holes in Alabama's Defense?

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    Nick Chubb
    Nick ChubbDoug Benc/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Short answer: no. Long answer: not often enough. The senior backs are too explosive to be contained for the entire game, but teams cannot consistently run on the Tide. If Chubb, Michel and the offensive line prove me (and many, many others) incorrect in that belief and the Bulldogs win, great! They would probably deserve that result. But I'm expecting Alabama's front seven to control this game. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Before Alabama’s performance against Clemson, the answer would have been a resounding yes. Now? It gets a bit tricky. I think Michel could have an impact in the passing game—at least that’s how I would try to get a young quarterback up to speed. And Chubb should undoubtedly do special things, as he usually does. I just cannot see them averaging 13 yards per carry like they did against Oklahoma. Shocking, I know. I do feel like one or both will make a enough plays to keep Georgia in contention, but the level of difficulty is going up immensely. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    It depends on how we're defining "holes." Will Georgia's tailbacks run wild like they did against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl? Absolutely not. Will they do better than the 20 carries for 48 yards that resulted in the regular-season loss to Auburn? Almost certainly. But I think this will be much closer to the latter than the former.

    Alabama has not allowed an opponent to average four or more yards per carry in a game in more than two years. (Coincidentally, that game was against Georgia—Chubb and Michel had 199 rushing yards in a 38-10 Alabama win—in October 2015.) Look for UGA's duo to finish somewhere in the vicinity of 28 carries for 120 yards and one score, which would be their second-worst performance of the season.

               

    Brad Shepard

    It's hard to envision they'll have anywhere close to the game they experienced against Oklahoma. I could see 130 combined yards and a couple of rushing scores, maybe. But will that be enough to beat Alabama?

    Rarely have 10 yards looked so insurmountable than Clemson's 1st-and-10 situations in the Sugar Bowl. It looked like Alabama had 16 defenders on the field. The Crimson Tide will miss Anfernee Jennings, but they can throw big, fast athletes at you in waves, and the gap techniques by the defensive line are unmatched at the collegiate level. Chubb and Michel will get some yards, and one of them may even break one. But it won't be a steady stream of big gains. 

How Many Receptions Will Calvin Ridley Have Against Georgia's Secondary?

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    Calvin Ridley
    Calvin RidleyButch Dill/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Four catches for about 50 yards. Georgia will rightfully focus on shutting down Ridley because he's such a critical part of Alabama's passing attack. Between his talent and target share, though, Ridley will still contribute—and probably lead the team in receiving. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    I’ll say five, and I could see at least one of those being for a touchdown. Although Alabama didn’t ask for my help, I’ll give it anyway: I'd throw quick slants to Ridley throughout the night—away from linebacker Roquan Smith, if possible. He’s just too good in space. And yes, I do think you’ll see Alabama at least try to hit Ridley on a handful of deep throws. Outside of running the ballwhich is something Alabama always does well—Ridley is who I would center my game plan around.

               

    Kerry Miller

    Ridley has made at least three catches in every contest this season. Expecting anything less than that would be silly. Moreover, I think this is going to be one of the biggest games of his career. Put Alabama's only reliable receiver down for eight receptions for 115 yards, six first downs and a touchdown. Ridley will be on the receiving end of at least half of Hurts' aerial production.

               

    Brad Shepard

    This year has to be a little frustrating for Ridley, as Alabama's offense has moved away from the passing game because of Hurts' ineffectiveness throwing downfield. Still, he has put up decent numbers because he's one of the three or four most talented receivers in the nation. Should he declare, he'll be one of the first receivers taken in the 2018 NFL draft. 

    Expect him to have a long, back-breaking touchdown reception when UGA is selling out to stop the run and he beats man coverage. I don't think he'll load up on catches, but I see him finishing with something like five grabs for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Will There Be a Defensive or Special Teams Touchdown in the Game?

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    Mack Wilson
    Mack WilsonTom Pennington/Getty Images

    David Kenyon

    While I'm saying neither defense nor special teams scores a touchdown, I believe a couple of takeaways will result in game-shaping possessions. Both quarterbacks are typically safe throwers, sometimes to a fault, and neither side has allowed a return touchdown all year. It would likely take a sack-fumble for a non-offensive touchdown to happen. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    The safe money says no. Though I hate being safe, I'll be that guy here. While we can talk about inexperience and maybe a lack of big plays for both quarterbacks, each does a nice job protecting the football. That's not to say a monster defensive player on either side won't come up with a strip-sack or some freak moment, but I admire the way each offense tends to operate.

    Special teams is another beast entirely, and it seems possible that both Georgia and Alabama could manufacture something here—especially after a short week with limited time to focus on these elements. But I don't see it. Both teams are well-coached. And while both are explosive enough to make it possible, I'm staying with the boring answer. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    Alabama has a knack for scoring non-offensive touchdowns, as we saw in the Sugar Bowl. And of the two turnovers in the Rose Bowl, one resulted in a touchdown and the other left Georgia at the Oklahoma 4. Thus, this is probably the foolish answer, but I'm saying no.

    There will be a max of two turnovers in this game, neither of which is a pick-six or a scoop-and-score. And neither Alabama nor Georgia has scored or allowed a touchdown from a punt or kickoff this season. Having said that, I do believe the first turnover of the game (if there are any) will determine the outcome.

               

    Brad Shepard

    It's hard to believe that Alabama, entering the Clemson game, had just two defensive scores this year. As dominant as the Tide were for the first 75 percent of the season—not to mention last year's unreal outputthat seems low. But after getting healthier over the past month leading up to the College Football Playoff, the Crimson Tide looked like their old selves. With Georgia throwing a freshman quarterback out there (even if he is one who is poised beyond his years), it's easy to envision a defensive TD. I'll go with one defensive score by the Tide.

What Will Be the Final Score of the National Championship?

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    Nick Saban
    Nick SabanGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    I envision a slow-paced, low-scoring clash in which Alabama controls things but doesn't pull away. Georgia will hang around into the fourth quarter, but my question is whether the Dawgs will have a realistic chance to win or if they'll clawing back from a two-score deficit in the final minutes. I'll take the Crimson Tide 23-17. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Alabama 23, Georgia 17. Good game. Actually, this is going to be a really good game. It won’t feature 7,000 points like the Rose Bowl, and that’s perfectly fine. We’re going to see two immensely talented teams tee up against each other repeatedly in just about every facet of the game, and the end result will be something pretty memorable and special.

    Why do I like Bama to win? Outside of seeming to find itself the other night and leaving at least 14 points on the table, I worry a bit about what that marathon Rose Bowl—not to mention the travel—might do to Georgia. They’re talented enough to overcome it without a doubt, but I’ll say that the No. 4 seed seals the deal. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    I am in no way saying you should bet your life savings on the under, but I see this being a low-scoring affair. Both teams do a good job of not giving the ball away, both have excellent punt-coverage teams, and neither one does much with punt returns. That combination means that there shouldn't be many massive swings in momentum and that it is going to take lengthy drives to put points on the board. That should be a challenge with a pair of game-manager QBs facing elite defenses.

    But I've got Alabama winning 21-17. The Crimson Tide manhandled Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, and they should be able to stifle the Bulldogs rushing attack just enough for the victory. The "home game" factor does make it tempting to go with Georgia, but give me the team that was regarded as the best in the nation for the entire season prior to the Iron Bowl.

               

    Brad Shepard

    This is tough. These teams are mirror images of each other, but Alabama's defense played out of its mind against the Tigers. When you see things like Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran's slamming down last year's national champion runner-up trophy, it has to make you shudder a little if you're Georgia. The Tide seem like a team on a mission and with a chip on their collective shoulder. I don't think that's good news for the Dawgs, who shouldn't panic just because Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma lit the defense up for a half. You'll see them settle down and play more like they did after halftime, but it still won't be enough. I'll go with Alabama winning 28-17.

Which Player Is Named the Offensive MVP?

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    Damien Harris
    Damien HarrisBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    David Kenyon

    Honestly, if there were ever a time to give out two defensive MVPs, it would probably be here. Nevertheless, since an offensive award will be handed out, give me Alabama running back Damien Harris. He'll play for the winning team and score a touchdown, which sure feels like the requirement for offensive MVP in this one. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Harris. I'm not sure how the best running back on Alabama is still underrated, but that's where we are. Harris is averaging 7.6 yards per carry this year after averaging 7.2 last year. I also loved the fact that Alabama gave him the ball 19 times against Clemson. His previous high in carries for the year was 14. Don't be shocked to see him touch the ball at least 20 times and punch it in at least once. If that's the case, I think he'll likely end his Alabama career on a fitting, tremendous note.  

               

    Kerry Miller

    Calvin Ridley. As previously mentioned, I expect a big day from the junior wide receiver, which will include several third-down receptions that are remembered as pivotal moments in the game. Maybe he doesn't have a catch go for 40 or more yards, but he might get targeted three times as often as any other player on either team. So, rather than playing running-back roulette and trying to guess which rusher goes for 100 yards and two scores, give me the wideout whose numbers are going to stand out from the pack.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Harris continues to be overlooked and underappreciated. That baffles me. Though Bo Scarbrough is a terrorizing force coming off the sideline and has a higher NFL ceiling, Harris does yeoman's work every game for the Tide. I see him busting out in this game. Look for him to wind up with 100-plus yards and a couple of scores on the ground as the Tide rise back to the top of the college football world.