By Matt Straub
There was a time when I didn’t even watch college football. Brad and I would have viscous arguments about the sport, which I boycotted because there was no playoff system. While it did so only because it could make more money, the sport eventually evolved, and we’ve come to realize the regular season is actually enhanced by a playoff format. A format where the conference champions all made an eight-team field would make things even better because the race for division championships, which are currently overlooked, would become even more important, but that’s a discussion for another day.
For now, what matters is how much better college football is than it used to be, and I’ve watched more than I ever thought I would lately. After joining the GamedayisHere crew last year for the college picks contest and getting comfortable, I thought I was ready this year to consider myself an expert. Ok, let’s be honest, I consider myself an expert on most things, but this year I proved it. In the biggest upset in the college football world since Boise State beat Oklahoma, I showed up and beat everyone in our picks contest this year.
Riding high after a great start, I grinded through the difficult dog days of October and navigated past the constant challenges of late conference games and rivalries, managing to avoid a Notre Dame style collapse late in the year and taking home the trophy. If you stuck with me all year you had a profitable season, which anyone who used to listen to me talk about how much I hate college football would never have predicted.
You know what I predicted? I called Georgia being one of the best teams in the country long before everyone was on the bandwagon. Guess who’s playing for the national title? Georgia. I could say I liked Alabama in the top four more than a lot of other people, particularly those who live in Ohio, but that’s not nearly as fun to brag about. I might as well tell you now how I think the Yankees will have a good offense this year.
So who am I predicting to follow my lead and win a championship?
Before we go any further, we need to mention the other team which qualifies in the discussion as best I’ve seen all year. Central Florida has several wins over Top 25-level teams and just beat the team which beat both of the title game participants. Importantly, Auburn didn’t play that game like the typical team which felt disappointed to be there and let the little guy win. The Golden Knights beat them straight up, and showed they belong in the discussion of best teams in America. They’re ridiculous for preemptively awarding themselves a title, but the AP should vote them No. 1, since this year deserves to be split at the least.
In the real world, however, two teams are going to play for the championship, so let someone who has already won a college football championship this year tell you who’s going to win it.
For me, this game features one matchup which will dictate the outcome more than any other. Georgia’s offensive line against the front seven of Alabama will determine Monday’s winner. Alabama’s pass rush can completely wreck an opponent’s game plan. Just ask Clemson, which had a great season, only to see its entire offense obliterated by Alabama’s front seven. It’s hard to run your offense when you have no time to throw, your receivers are rarely open and your running backs don’t have room to maneuver. Can freshman quarterback Jake Fromm survive the pressure, and can he even stand up to the mental stress of dealing with it? Can Georgia run the ball well enough to keep the Tide’s front seven from attacking Fromm? There are no bigger questions heading into Monday night. Georgia’s ability to stand up to the force of Alabama’s pressure will be the biggest key to the outcome.
The only thing which could slow Alabama’s defense is fatigue. Lane Kiffin, who knows the Tide very well and, for all his faults, is a football genius, hypothesized this week that the reason the Tide have allowed 500 yards and nearly 40 points in each of their last four season finales is because coach Nick Saban works them too hard, particularly in the week between the semifinal and title game. He’d better have his team fresh to go against Georgia’s bruising running attack. Fortunately for Alabama, it is facing a power-based team as opposed to the collection of athletes they’ve seen in previous bowls.
When Alabama has the ball, their versatility should be too much for Georgia, which is another good defense. The Bulldogs, however, got exposed by Oklahoma’s offense in the Rose Bowl. If they couldn’t slow Baker Mayfield, I don’t see them slowing down Jalen Hurts, a quarterback who is even more mobile. Throw in some good running backs and a talented receiver, and Alabama should be able to do enough to hold off Georgia’s defense by making sure the Bulldogs can’t focus on any one part of the game.
Put it all together, and Alabama wins a national championship, even if it will be the third-most memorable thing about this college football season. The year 2017 will always be remembered as the year UCF got robbed of a chance to play for a title and the year Straub was anointed by the masses as a college football expert after winning his once-unthinkable championship.
College Football Championship
No. 4 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (13-1) at Atlanta, 8, ESPN
Spread: Alabama -4.5
Brad’s Final: Alabama 28, Georgia 20 (Alabama)
Craig’s Final: Georgia 26, Alabama 20 (Georgia)
Glenn’s Final: Alabama 31, Georgia 24 (Alabama)
Matt’s Final: Alabama 28, Georgia 17 (Alabama)