For the seventh time in the last nine seasons, Alabama is in the SEC Championship Game. While another appearance in Atlanta is nothing new, this is the Crimson Tide's first title game as an underdog since 2009.
In fact, this is Alabama's first game as an underdog in 92 contests, dating back to the Crimson Tide's 2015 matchup at Georgia, which they won 38-10.
Georgia is a 6.5-point favorite when the two teams meet on Saturday, and the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the nation for good reason. They've given up more than a touchdown just once in the last five games and likewise failed to score 40 points just once during that stretch.
But there's plenty of reason to still believe in Nick Saban's team, even though the team has played below its customary level the past few seasons.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the SEC Championship Game
1. The edge at quarterback
After Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones broke all kinds of passing records the last two seasons at Alabama, there was immense pressure on sophomore Bryce Young to thrive this season. And the former No. 2 overall recruit has delivered, especially as the season has gone on.
Young ranks seventh nationally with 325.1 passing yards per game, eighth with 9.3 yards per attempt, and fifth in passer efficiency rating (176.97). But crucially, he also only has four interceptions across three games, including just one in his last six contests, even though he struggled at times against Auburn. Avoiding mistakes will be critical against this Georgia defense.
Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett IV ranks ahead of Young in yards per attempt (10.8, second nationally) and passer efficiency rating (188.55, second), but Georgia doesn't ask him to carry as much of the offense. He's only attempting 16.6 passes per game since the Bulldogs can lean on running backs Zamir White and James Cook.
Young has more arm talent than Bennett and is better poised to make the big play when needed. Add in a stronger group of skill position players — Jameson Williams (1,261) and John Metchie III (1,045) are two of the four SEC players to reach 1,000 receiving yards this year — and Alabama has the clear edge through the air. Don't sleep on five-star freshman Ja'Corey Brooks, either, who had the game-tying touchdown last week.
2. Will Anderson Jr.'s pressure
Alabama and Georgia rank third and tied for fourth, respectively, in the nation in sacks, but the Crimson Tide have perhaps the best pass rusher in the FBS. That would be none other than Anderson, a sophomore.
After racking up seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss as a true freshman last season, Anderson leads the nation with 13 sacks and 29.5 TFLs in just 12 games. No FBS player has reached 30 TFLs since Houston's Sammy Brown in 2011, and it took him 14 games. Anderson has been playing on another level lately, too, with 11 sacks and 18 TFLs in the last six games alone.
Georgia has an impressive defensive front led by defensive tackle Jordan Davis — 10 different players have multiple sacks — but no single Bulldog defender can impact this game like Anderson can.
3. Georgia hasn't faced many elite defenses
In addition to Anderson, Alabama has its usual array of blue-chip talents, from senior defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis to Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To'o To'o to safety Jordan Battle. And it probably forms the best defense Georgia has faced this season other than Clemson.
That game against the Tigers feels like a lifetime ago, and it's also the only game the Bulldogs won by fewer than 24 points. Georgia's stifling defense has been able to stop elite offenses, but elite defenses have been able to at least slow down their powerful offense.
One particular challenge for Georgia will be running against a Crimson Tide front that has held opponents to 80.6 yards per game on the ground this season, ranking fourth in the nation. The 2.4 yards per attempt they give up are second only to Wisconsin. Forcing Bennett to throw often will be a key to victory.
4. Dominating time of possession
As the underdog, Alabama's best shot at winning is likely limiting the number of possessions and keeping the ball away from Georgia. And the Crimson Tide have been quite good at that this season with an average of 32:16:42 minutes of possession, good for 12th in the FBS. Compare that to Georgia, which is barely above average at 30:05:92.
The Crimson Tide have been able to hang onto the ball for so long because they are converting 54.0 percent of their third downs, which is second only to Coastal Carolina. Of course, this will be a strength-on-strength matchup, as Georgia ranks eighth nationally with opponents converting just 31.6 percent of third downs against them.
5. Alabama's experience in close games
Alabama has not had its customary share of blowout wins. In fact, its last three SEC wins have come by just one score. The silver lining there, however, is that they have quite a bit of recent experience in close games.
The Crimson Tide managed to rally from down 14 against Texas A&M to tie the game, although they could not put together a game-winning drive, and their come-from-behind win in the Iron Bowl last Saturday was a game for the ages. They've proven that they're never quite out of a game.
Will the Bulldogs' lack of experience in close games come back to bite them in the end? That remains to be seen. Perhaps the bigger point is they haven't had many tough situations — they've attempted fewer third-down conversions (131) than any team in the nation because they've been so good in early downs.
But one thing is for sure: even with all the coaching and personnel turnover, this Alabama team is battle-tested and experienced from last season’s title run as well as the bumps and bruises from this "down" year.
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