Nick Saban has Alabama in a familiar position. The Crimson Tide are 60 minutes from another national championship. Alabama has claimed four under Saban’s watch and are the only team to make the CFB Playoff in all four seasons since 2014. The Crimson Tide are aiming for their second title in three years after falling to Clemson in a 35-31 thriller in Tampa last season. This time around, the path to a national championship runs through another SEC team and a familiar face around Alabama's program in recent years. Georgia - led by former Saban assistant Kirby Smart - defeated Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on Monday to clinch a spot in the national title game and earn an opportunity to knock off the Crimson Tide. Familiarity between these two programs will be a storyline right up until kickoff, as former Saban assistant Kirby Smart has the Bulldogs trending up and clearly poised to maintain a place among the best in college football.
Alabama returns to Atlanta after playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open the season against Florida State. The Crimson Tide won their first 11 games to start the year but stumbled at Auburn on Nov. 25, which prevented Saban’s team from earning a trip to the SEC Championship. Alabama edged Ohio State for the No. 4 seed and handled Clemson in the Sugar Bowl to earn a trip to Atlanta and a shot at the national title.
Why will Alabama win on Jan. 8 and claim its second national title in three years? Here are five reasons the Crimson Tide will claim the national title over Georgia:
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Beat Georgia in the National Championship
1. Alabama’s Defense Came to Play Against Clemson
After looking tired and a little vulnerable late in the season, the month to prepare for the Sugar Bowl paid big dividends for Alabama’s defense. The Crimson Tide were all over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf on Monday night, limiting Clemson to just 188 total yards (2.7 per play) and zero touchdowns. Nick Saban’s group racked up five sacks, nine tackles for a loss, intercepted two passes and allowed only one drive to extend beyond 55 yards. The return of Christian Miller, Mack Wilson and Terrell Lewis provided extra depth at linebacker, and Anfernee Jennings (three tackles for a loss) played arguably his best game of the 2017 season. Jennings won’t play in the national championship due to injury, but the front seven is in better shape than it was at the end of the regular season. With the defensive front secure in depth and talent, coordinator Jeremy Pruitt won’t have to ask his safeties to spend all game in the box defending the run or blitzing off the edge to get to the quarterback. Most importantly for Alabama, this defense is built to handle a run-first offense like the one Georgia brings to the national title game. The Crimson Tide’s worst matchup would be a spread attack like the one faced in last year’s championship versus Clemson.
2. The Run Defense
With the strength and physical nature of both teams in the trenches and on defense, the national championship is going to be a hard-hitting affair. But considering how similar these two programs are, stopping the run is going to be priority No. 1 for the defense. Georgia has been solid in this department all year, but Alabama has been better in the trenches. The Crimson Tide are holding opponents to just 11.1 points a game and lead the SEC in rush defense by limiting offenses to 91.8 yards per contest. Saban’s defense has suffocated opposing ground attacks all year, as Alabama is allowing only 2.7 yards a carry. Additionally, no opponent has rushed for more than 175 yards against this defense. Georgia’s one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel form the best backfield the Crimson Tide have played this season. However, as evidenced all year, Alabama is up to the task. Look for senior linebacker Rashaan Evans (11.5 TFL) and Mack Wilson to spend a lot of time around the line of scrimmage on Monday night.
3. The Ground Game Against Georgia’s Defense
Prior to the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, Georgia’s defense was limiting opponents to just 112.6 rushing yards a game. But the Sooners found some cracks in coach Kirby Smart’s defense and accumulated 242 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries. The bulk of the damage was done by Rodney Anderson (201 yards and two scores), who also had a 41-yard touchdown run in the first half. Oklahoma’s high-powered offense presented its share of issues for Georgia’s defense in terms of skill talent, but this unit also possessed one of the best offensive lines in college football. That’s where the battle will begin on Monday night, as Alabama’s offensive line also has a place among the best in the nation. Guard Lester Cotton was injured against Clemson and his status is uncertain headed into Monday night. But even if Cotton is out, the Crimson Tide’s line will be a handful for Georgia’s defense. Coordinator Brian Daboll utilized his running backs to perfection in the win over Clemson, and the Bulldogs should expect to see plenty of Damien Harris (983 yards) and Bo Scarbrough (573). And if those two weren’t enough to stop on the ground, Georgia has to contend with the mobility of quarterback Jalen Hurts (808 yards). After struggling to stop the run against Oklahoma, Alabama – the nation’s No. 10 rushing offense – is an equally tough matchup for the Bulldogs.
4. Jalen Hurts
The final stat line for Hurts against Clemson was relatively modest. The sophomore quarterback completed 16 of 24 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and ranked second on the team with 40 rushing yards on 11 carries. But the stat line and tape show a different story. Hurts utilized his legs to escape the Clemson defensive front, allowing him to target receivers downfield on the move. Through 13 games, Hurts has tossed only one interception and is completing 61.4 percent of his throws. Georgia’s defense is going to load the box in an effort to slow down Alabama’s ground game, forcing Hurts to win this one with his arm and legs. But as Monday night in New Orleans showed, coordinator Brian Daboll isn’t afraid to add a few wrinkles to utilize the strength of the offense in the form of Alabama’s running backs. If Georgia slows down receiver Calvin Ridley, Daboll and Hurts can find ways to involve the other playmakers, get yardage on first down and stay out of third-and-long situations.
5. Nick Saban
The teacher (Saban) takes on the pupil (Kirby Smart) on Monday night. And recent history has not been kind to the pupil. In games against his former assistants, Saban is 11-0. Simply, Saban is the best coach in college football and it will take a perfect effort from Georgia on Monday night to win. Consider last year’s game against Clemson. The Tigers needed 420 total yards from Deshaun Watson and a last-minute touchdown pass to win. Teams that give Alabama the most trouble are the ones with dual-threat quarterbacks and up-tempo offenses. The Bulldogs are clearly a team on the rise under Smart’s direction, but a team that’s a mirror image of Alabama will need a perfect game against the nation’s best roster to win. It’s not impossible, but don’t bet against Saban in the national championship.