Alabama and Georgia play in the 2018 SEC Championship Game on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. You can watch the game on CBS.
Many believe that No. 1 Alabama (12-0) already has earned a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But Notre Dame (12-0) and Clemson (12-0) are likely playoff participants, and Georgia (11-1) should be in if it wins Saturday.
So a loss by the Crimson Tide would put the College Football Playoff committee in an uncomfortable position, especially if Oklahoma and Ohio State win their respective conferences.
Alabama-Georgia also could be one of the best games of the season, including the playoff. I have Georgia power-rated No. 3 in the country behind Alabama and Clemson. The Bulldogs match up well, and could present the most difficult challenge to the unbeaten Tide short of a fourth consecutive College Football Playoff game against the ACC’s Tigers.
According to The Action Network, as of Thursday night, Alabama-Georgia was the most-bet college football game of the week.
Consensus line (Nov. 29): Alabama -13.5
How Alabama can win: With the exception of the Mississippi State game, the Tide offensive line has done an excellent job of protecting Tua Tagovailoa. That must continue against a Georgia team that must blitz to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
How Georgia can win: The Bulldogs are excellent at limiting explosive passing plays. Georgia is capable of forcing Alabama to put together long, patient drives. Its excellent backfield also needs to snap off some long rushes, which Alabama allows on occasion. Georgia holds a distinct special teams edge as well.
Here are a few additional nuggets:
- Alabama never has been a double-digit favorite over Georgia since modern gambling record-keeping began in the mid-1980s.
- Nick Saban has been a monster against the spread, but his Alabama teams are only 3-3 ATS in SEC championship games.
- Kirby Smart is 4-0 ATS in postseason games at Georgia.
- This game should set a record for the highest over/under in SEC title game history. Auburn-South Carolina (2001) hold the current record with a closing Vegas total of 61.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
When you win your first 12 games by 22 points as the defending national champion, you tend to be a heavy favorite all season. Alabama (-14.5 at LSU) has been favored by less than three touchdowns just one other time this season, based on the closing number at the Westgate SuperBook.
Don’t look now, but Alabama’s strength of schedule should be nearing Top 25 status after playing Georgia this week.
- DL Isaiah Buggs (hyperextended knee) has been practicing. He returned to the Iron Bowl after injuring the knee last week, but did not look 100 percent. The broadcast reported that he tried on three different knee braces on the sideline. He’s an important figure on Alabama’s defensive line as he leads the team with 9.5 sacks.
- DB Jared Mayden, the sixth back in Alabama’s dime package, will miss the first half due to a targeting call. Keaton Anderson is expected to replace him until halftime.
- Alabama has several players who suffered probable season-ending injuries and remain out: LB Terrell Lewis, LB Christopher Allen, DB Daniel Wright, DB Trevon Diggs and TE Kendrick James.
|Nick Saban||12th||139-20||80-13||6 national championships (5 at Alabama), 7 SEC championships (5 at Alabama), 4x SEC Coach of the Year (3 at Alabama)|
Saban is 7-3 in SEC Championship Games in his career. Saban remains unbeaten against former assistants, although Kirby Smart came closest in last year’s national championship game, which Alabama won in overtime. Steve Spurrier (5 SEC titles) is the only other coach to win more than two SEC championship games.
Tagovailoa is a heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and this is the final game before the ceremony. If there are any late voters, and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray wants a chance at an upset, he has to beat Texas and hope that Tagovailoa looks terrible in a loss to Georgia. Tagovailoa has looked healthier the last two games after suffering and aggravating a knee injury during the middle part of the season.
Georgia has not been an underdog since playing Alabama in last year’s national title game. The last non-Bama team to be favored against Georgia? Notre Dame at home on Sept. 9, 2017, in Jake Fromm’s first start. The Bulldogs covered the spread in both games and won outright in South Bend.
F+/- combines what most consider to be the two best, most comprehensive college football analytics rankings. Georgia ranks No. 2 in that stat behind Alabama. So there’s an argument to be made that the SEC title game features the two best teams in the country this season.
- LB Monty Rice (foot) missed the last two games. Georgia’s second-leading tackler may or may not play against Alabama and has struggled to return to form in practice this week. LB Robert Beal also is unlikely to play.
- G Ben Cleveland is still working his way back from a leg injury. He practiced with the second-team offense this week. G Cade Mays (shoulder) is unlikely to play as well. OL Kendall Baker (knee) also is out.
- DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle has returned to practice after missing the last seven games due to injury. He may play against Alabama.
- RB Zamir White, DB Tray Bishop, SS Jarvis Wilson, DE Justin Young and DB Ameer speed are also out, and DB Divaad Wilson is questionable.
|Kirby Smart||3rd||32-8||18-6||1 SEC championship, 1 SEC Coach of the Year|
Last year’s near-national championship made a loud statement. Then Georgia sealed one of the best classes of the modern recruiting era, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, far outpacing Saban and Alabama. That class, followed by yet another SEC championship game appearance, should signal to Alabama and the rest of the conference that this UGA program will be a powerhouse for years to come.
Georgia represents the best SEC rival that Saban’s Alabama teams have had since Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow at Florida. (I think this UGA program is even more of a threat than LSU’s peak during the Les Miles era.)
Fromm threw two of his five interceptions in the loss at LSU, and had minus-19 rushing yards in that game. Georgia abandoned the run after falling behind LSU early.
It’s not a coincidence that Fromm has played his best football since running back D’Andre Swift got fully healthy.
THE LOCKSMITH’S PREDICTION
Bet: Georgia +13.5
Score: Alabama 33, Georgia 24
We’ve all wondered it prior to this season. What would a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team look like with one of the best quarterbacks in the country?
The answer is all-time special. But this team’s legacy hinges on winning its next three games.
In my national power rankings, Clemson is No. 2, Georgia is No. 3, Oklahoma is No. 5 and Ohio State is No. 6. Assuming Alabama wins Saturday, it will get the No. 1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff, likely against Oklahoma or Ohio State.
In other words, even if we get Alabama-Clemson in the national championship, this is at least the second-toughest opponent Alabama will face. Georgia’s defense can prevent big plays and its running backs can get loose for a few long runs. And Saban needs to avoid getting into a placekicking contest with Rodrigo Blankenship on the other sideline.
LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri were all good teams. But this is the most prolific offense that Alabama has faced this season. It will not hold Georgia to 10 points or less, as it did against those three opponents.
I will be mildly surprised if Georgia wins outright. But I expect Alabama’s streak of winning every game by 20+ points will end Saturday.
Christopher Smith is a professional handicapper. He’s the founder of Sports Locksmith and also works full-time for MyBookie out of Costa Rica.