B/R Expert Questions for the CFB National Championship GameJanuary 7, 2022
B/R Expert Questions for the CFB National Championship Game
For the third straight year, the national champion will be an SEC team. But will the Alabama Crimson Tide or Georgia Bulldogs stand atop the college football world?
Not only is this showdown a rematch of the SEC Championship Game, but these programs also met in the national title game four years ago. That night featured the breakout of Tua Tagovailoa, who engineered the Tide's dramatic comeback in an overtime win.
Who's poised to become the championship hero in Indianapolis? And where is the trophy headed?
B/R's college football panel—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—assembled one final time to answer key questions about the title matchup.
What's at Stake for Kirby Smart?
There's no real reason for hyperbole here. Nobody in college football outside of Nick Saban is on firmer footing at his university than favorite son, Smart, is at Georgia.
With the way he is recruiting, convincing elite players to come to Athens from the transfer portal and beating everybody in sight not named Alabama, the Bulldogs know they've got their coach for as long as he wants to be there—and there doesn't seem to be any indication he'll leave his alma mater for another job or the NFL.
But consternation is going to set in soon enough if Smart can't beat Saban. This UGA team is better, deeper and more talented. They've got the horses on defense, and while they've still got to get better quarterback play, Todd Monken has worked wonders on the offensive side of the ball, too.
Dawgs fans are so sick of hearing about 1980 from their rivals. That, of course, is the last time Georgia won the national championship. It's something that—no matter how well they recruit or how much they win—everybody is going to keeping reminding them of until they shake that albatross.
What's at stake for Smart? If Georgia gets over this hump, the Bulldogs have everything in place to unseat Alabama as college football’s regal program. They are in an enviable recruiting position, have great coaches and have no trouble convincing kids to play for the red and black.
But it's fair to ask, "Is this the ceiling?" It will be until Smart can win the big one.
The intent of the question isn't that a loss puts Smart on anything remotely close to a hot seat. It's literally six degrees outside as I write this, and his proverbial seat is colder than that.
However, the program eventually ran Mark Richt out of town because he couldn't win a national title. Again, not suggesting that level of frustration is waiting on the opposite side of a loss in Indianapolis. That's still several years in the future.
With a win, that possibility vanishes. Lifting the ugly championship trophy buys Smart a relatively worry-free half-decade.
And as if he needs any help dominating on the recruiting trail, a national title certainly wouldn't hurt his pitch, either.
Who Scores the 1st Touchdown?
Ah, yes. This feels a little prop bet-y, and I am here for it.
Now, much of this, of course, depends on the team that receives the ball first. With that being said, I'm still going with Georgia.
What can be lost in the SEC Championship Game, before it eventually became the Bryce Young Heisman victory parade, was that Georgia was up 10-0 and looking mighty comfortable early on. Then Young did his thing. Then Georgia's defense fell apart. Then Alabama cruised, crashed the playoff and made the national championship (again).
I still believe more than a month removed from this game, however, that Georgia's defense will be in a good spot. At the very least, it should respond much better and differently than it did the last time these two teams played.
If that is the case, I believe the defense should get a stop. And while the Alabama defense played great against Cincinnati, this is not Cincinnati. This is an offense with fascinating players and pieces that should be put in a position to thrive.
Young might have something to say about this prediction. He certainly did last game. However, I'm sticking to it. Georgia scores first.
Although the Tide paused this trend in the Cotton Bowl, they'd routinely had slow starts in November and the SEC title game. Georgia, meanwhile, has consistently jumped out to early leads.
I'm inclined to stick with the full-season sample and pick the Dawgs. Georgia should have a sturdy plan defensively, especially given that Alabama won't have top receiver John Metchie III. That's a key advantage for UGA early on.
The replacements for Metchie should settle in, and Alabama will adjust as needed offensively. But those tweaks will follow a Georgia touchdown, just like in the SEC Championship Game.
Will UGA Contain Brian Robinson Jr.?
Yes, the Bulldogs will be able to shut down Robinson. It's something they did back on Dec. 4 in the SEC Championship Game when they held him to just 55 yards on a 3.4-yard average.
The simple fact is nobody's running against this vaunted UGA front seven, and you know Jordan Davis, Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and that elite cast of linebackers led by Nakobe Dean are going to be playing with a chip on their shoulders after they allowed 41 points in the loss in Atlanta.
Back then, it simply wasn't the Georgia defense we're all used to seeing. Everybody was wondering what went wrong, but it wasn't Robinson who was the catalyst.
Despite coming off his career game in a huge semifinal win over Cincinnati, Georgia is a different beast altogether. Everybody in that front seven is going to be playing on Sundays, and this game is going to rest on the elite arm of Bryce Young once again. The only way Robinson goes off is if there is so much attention on stopping the pass that the Dawgs forget about him.
They're way too disciplined for that to happen, and guys like Davis and Wyatt make UGA the best run-stopping defense in the nation. Robinson will be bottled up once again.
After seeing how Alabama's offensive line controlled the semifinal against Cincinnati, it's worth discussing. But, as Brad said, this Georgia defense is a different beast.
One interesting note, though, is Robinson only handled four first-down carries in the first three quarters of the SECCG. Alabama had clear respect for this defensive front, mostly leaning on quick-hitting passes with a few deeper shots. Will it be a similar plan?
Additionally, the Tide had seven third-downs snaps with three yards or less to gain—and trusted Young's arm on five of them. Will that change, either?
The short answer is, yes, the Dawgs slow Robinson. But how Alabama uses him is something I'll be watching closely.
Does Stetson Bennett Build on Career-Best Day?
To me, the real question here is: Will Georgia need Bennett to throw as much as he did a month ago?
For most of this season, Bennett wasn't asked to be anything more than a game manager. But in the SEC championship, he was tasked with throwing the ball 48 times against the Crimson Tide secondary.
And he was...adequate. Bennett surpassed 300 yards and tossed three touchdowns, but the two second-half interceptions with Georgia already down by two scores basically sealed the Bulldogs' fate.
My assumption is the Dawgs' defense and run game will be better than they were in Atlanta, and that Bennett will have more modest numbers. Something along the lines of 17-for-27 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and a pick.
I expected a much closer Orange Bowl in large part because we'd never seen that version of Stetson Bennett before. It's the first time he'd ever topped 300 yards in a win.
That's an arbitrary stat, man! To some degree, sure, yet it illustrates the reality of how UGA prefers to play. The more successful the Dawgs are on the ground, the less responsibility Bennett has to shoulder—and it worked all season until Alabama came around. Seeing that performance against Michigan was important.
Bennett won't shred Bama's secondary in a similar fashion. But if he finishes around Kerry's projection, which is also close to what I had in mind, that's likely a promising sign for Georgia.
Who's the Key Under-the-Radar Player?
I'll go with Alabama wideout Slade Bolden, and the reasoning is somewhat simple. With Metchie injured and unable to play, someone outside of Jameson Williams needs to make plays at wide receiver.
When Metchie left the SEC Championship Game with a knee injury, the offense didn't quite look the same. Granted, Alabama had a lead and was playing much more conservatively, but I still believe someone needs to step up in this group.
Bolden, a junior, scored a touchdown against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl. He only caught three passes for 31 yards, although I expect that output to go up with Williams likely to be the focal point of the Georgia defense.
The other element of this matchup that will force Bolden to make plays is the reality that Robinson is almost certainly not going to run for 200 yards against this defense.
The passing game will have to be better than it was against Cincinnati, and I expect Bolden to at least do his part and score a touchdown.
Same thought process, but I landed on Ja'Corey Brooks.
Alabama will probably rely on those quick-hitters to Jameson Williams, but that's not a comprehensive plan. The offense has to challenge Georgia vertically—which the Tide did successfully in the SECCG, and even Michigan managed a couple of deep completions—and Brooks is slowly emerging as a key factor downfield.
While the freshman didn't play much through October, his snap count has rocketed up since the regular-season finale at Auburn. Brooks snared the game-tying 28-yard touchdown in the Iron Bowl and caught a 44-yard score opposite Cincinnati.
How About the Key Star Player?
Nakobe Dean for the win. Literally.
The Georgia linebacker had a sensational season, but he never got the national attention of Jordan Davis, Will Anderson Jr. or Aidan Hutchinson for some reason.
He'll make up for lost time with another big game on the grandest stage. Dean had seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Michigan, and I think he'll do even more in this one. He'll play a huge part in bottling up Robinson Jr. and he's going to take a Bryce Young interception to the house.
And, yes, I am aware there has only been one defensive touchdown (shoutout Clemson's A.J. Terrell) in the previous seven national championships. That's why Dean's TD will be such a big deal.
I'll take the opposite side of that conversation.
This is a pressure-filled moment for Young, who thrived in the December matchup but has a different outlook this time around. We've harped on it again and again, but the Heisman Trophy winner will be without his leading target in the title game.
Yes, the Tide rolled Cincinnati without Metchie. However, they simply overpowered the Bearcats with Robinson and minimized Young's impact. That was by design, absolutely. Why pass when Robinson can pick up eight yards at a time? Georgia's strong run defense should force Young and the Tide to throw a whole lot more.
The dude won the sport's most prestigious award. Young could dominate again. Whether he does, though, defines the game.
O/U 1.5 Sacks for Will Anderson Jr.?
Going to have to take the over. Bama's sophomore linebacker has gotten after quarterbacks to the tune of 17.5 sacks this season, good for an average of 1.25 per game.
Last time against Georgia, Anderson sacked Stetson Bennett once. He had two last weekend against Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, so I like his odds to get a couple on Bennett, especially since he knows what he's going up against in Georgia's offensive line after the first matchup.
Bennett's mobility might help him avoid some of Alabama's pass rush, but I think Anderson can get a couple sacks on Monday.
Agree with Morgan.
Not only did Anderson bring down Bennett once in December, the All-American pressured the quarterback a few more times. Which, you know, applies to nearly every game for Anderson in 2021. Not exactly sharing breaking news here.
The quiet part of this discussion is whether Anderson can knock the ball loose. Bennett has done well to avoid sack-fumbles, and Anderson hasn't created one this season. But a single turnover in such an even matchup can swing the game dramatically.
Which Player Has the Most Receptions?
I mean, it has to be Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams here, right? In the absence of Metchie, Williams has stepped up huge for the Tide over the past two games. Against Georgia last month, Williams had 184 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs secondary. He averaged 26.3 yards on seven receptions.
Thanks to Alabama running the ball with ease against Cincinnati in the semifinal, Williams didn't have to do much against the Bearcats, so he'll be more than ready to go on Monday night. I do think Georgia's defense will make the necessary adjustments in the secondary for Round 2 against the Tide considering that unit got completely picked apart by Young and Co. the first time around. Still, Williams' speed is absolutely lethal, so I have no doubt Young will be able to find him in space often.
The biggest question will be if he will have a similar performance like he did against Georgia in Atlanta. Even if he doesn't have quite as big of a day, I think he can easily finish the night with the most receptions.
Georgia knows Bama will get the ball in Williams' hands. For me, one of Saban's most memorable stories is how he learned as a high school QB to trust your best players in critical moments. I think the national championship fits that billing, yeah?
Since catching 17 passes in Alabama's first five games, Williams has six-plus receptions in seven of the past nine. Georgia tight end Brock Bowers is the Dawgs' lone player to hit six catches in a game this season, and he's only done it twice.
But as Morgan noted, the larger storyline is Williams' production and not simply the volume he commands.
Alabama or Georgia: Who You Got?
I've changed my mind, oh, probably 16 times in the past three days. But that's exactly what we want for a national championship, right? Against my better judgment—not picking Saban as an underdog?!—I'll take Georgia. Metchie's absence is very concerning, and it gives the Dawgs an ever-so-slight edge for me.
Georgia. I know how the first game went, and I don't care. I think we'll see a much different effort (and result) from the team I picked to win the national title in the preseason. Consider that my very awkward brag. The Bulldogs' defense responds in a big way, and the offense does enough.
I know you didn't ask for these specifics, but I like Georgia to win and cover, and give me the under. The Dawgs are much more well-equipped to slow down Bama's run game than Cincinnati was, and I suspect this is where not having Metchie will be the Crimson Tide's undoing. Georgia 27-20.
God, I hate picking this game so much. I picked Georgia the first time around, but I wasn't surprised whatsoever that the Tide ended up winning. I'll go with Georgia in a close one here, but if Bama comes out on top I won't be shocked.
I thought for a while the Dawgs were going to get revenge, but when Nick Saban is the underdog, you've got him right where you want him, right? It's not like Alabama is all out of talent, and the Tide believe nobody is giving them a chance (which is laughable). I'll take the best coach and best player. Bama 30-27.