SEC Championship Game 2018: Early Preview, Predictions for Alabama vs. Georgia

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2018

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 24:  Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's a conference championship, not a national championship, on the line on Saturday when No. 1 Alabama (12-0) takes on No. 5 Georgia (11-1) in the 2018 SEC title game.

The two powerhouses met in January for last season's College Football Playoff final, where the Crimson Tide pulled out an epic 26-23 comeback victory, capped off by that touchdown throw from then-freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. 

In this matchup, the stakes are lower, but only slightly. Alabama is trying to preserve an undefeated record and a No. 1 ranking going into the CFP, but should they lose, would still be a shoe-in for the playoff. The fifth-ranked Bulldogs are likely to move up to the No. 4 spot after Michigan's big loss to Ohio State. A win, and they will be in the CFP; a loss, and a brilliant season is over.

2018 SEC Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Georgia

When: Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

TV: CBS

Everyone should be used to dominant Alabama teams in Year 12 of the Nick Saban Era, but this bunch might be truly transcendent. The Crimson Tide have won every game this year by 22 points or better. They have played three ranked teams this year. Only Texas A&M managed to score; both LSU and Mississippi State were shut out.

A major reason Alabama is somehow even more imposing than usual is Tagovailoa, a Heisman candidate who throws one of the prettiest passes in college football. The sophomore (36 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions) was at his best in a 52-21 win over Auburn on Saturday, throwing for 324 yards and five TDs while adding a rushing score. 

Combine the superb Tagovailoa with the typical Alabama running game—a three-headed monster consisting of Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs—and the offense is simply overwhelming. On defense, the Crimson Tide are as soul crushing as ever, allowing 13.1 points per game, third in the nation.

A small crack in the armor for the SEC title game, though, as defensive back Jared Mayden will miss the first half for a targeting violation against Auburn, per AL.com's Matt Zenitz. Nothing the Crimson Tide shouldn't be able to handle. 

So yes, Georgia has its hands full on Saturday, but few teams have as good of a chance at pulling off the upset. The Bulldogs were tripped up just once this season, losing to LSU 36-16 on October 13. Outside of that, they haven't faced too many real threats. The Bulldogs' average margin of victory this year is 26.8 points. 

The defense is one of the best in the country, giving up just 16.8 points per contest. The standout on this side of the ball is lockdown cornerback Deandre Baker. Pro Football Focus College noted on Nov. 14 the Jim Thorpe Award finalist rarely gets beat:

Baker will be key to slowing Alabama's passing attack, but even if he can neutralize wideout Jerry Jeudy, Tagovailoa has plenty of other options. 

On offense, the Bulldogs count on quarterback Jake Fromm (20 TDs, 5 INTs) to be accurate and not make mistakes. The running game is king, led by the tandem of D'Andre Swift (857 yards, eight rushing touchdowns) and Elijah Holyfield (817 yards, six touchdowns). The Bulldogs will have to do their best to grind down Alabama's top-flight rushing defense.

Georgia is a great team, but Alabama is everything. If there is a sign of weakness for the Crimson Tide, it's that they've started out slow the past couple games. Alabama was tied 10-10 at the half against The Citadel before turning it into a blowout, and it was 17-14 Alabama's favor at the half against Auburn. 

If Georgia can keep things close at halftime, they can try to pound the ball in the second half, control the clock and hopefully get the big plays they need. But with this Alabama team, it seems it's just a matter of time before they impose their will on any given opponent.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Georgia 20

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