Georgia, the defensive mammoth, and Alabama, the perennial juggernaut, seemed to be on their way to the top of college football all season.
In December, they faced off against each other in the Southeastern Conference Championship, a game in which the Bulldogs barely resembled the behemoth they were in their first game. On Friday, each team edged out their opponent in the college football playoff semi-finals for a chance to meet again in the national crown game in Indianapolis on Jan. 10 — unless the game is interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Alabama (13-1), who have won six national titles under Nick Saban (who took over in 2007), advanced to their sixth national championship game since 2015. Georgia (13-1), a program that has been close but hasn’t won a national championship since 1980, reached its second national title game in five years (the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in overtime in 2018).
Alabama, after beating Ohio State entered the 2021 season in January to end one of the most dominant seasons in college football history, with the rest of the country following.
Achieving last season’s results seemed unlikely as the Crimson Tide, who lost several players in the 2021 NFL Draft, including 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, — barely supplanted Florida at the opening of the SEC and lost to Texas A&M in less than a month.
Georgia, which entered 2021 with the highest recruiting ranking in the country, was ranked first in the ranking according to 247Sports. 1st place as he went through his schedule and went undefeated in the conference.
And Alabama, despite their inconsistencies, remained in the top five ahead of the regular season’s final game against Auburn. Saban, stern as always, chided his fans for criticizing his team’s imperfections ahead of the Iron Bowl in late November.
“When I came here, everyone was happy to win the game,” Saban said. said on his radio show. “Now we are no longer happy to win the game.”
A week after they Victory in the Iron CupDespite stalling offensive play, the Crimson Tide ripped through the nation’s top defense, gaining over 500 yards offensively against a Georgia team that only allowed about 250 yards per game. Before giving Alabama 41 points, the Bulldogs have lost more than 13 points in a game only once this season.
This loss resulted in Georgia coach Kirby Smart, once an assistant coach on Saban’s team in Alabama, losing 0-4 against his former boss.
Afterwards, Smart told reporters that the disappointing loss after an undefeated season had done little to the Bulldogs’ psyche.
“What he did was give us new energy,” Smart said. “It re-centers you.”
This was evident in a 34-11 rout of No. 1 Georgia. 2 Michigan in the Orange Bowl, a physical game in which the Bulldogs defensive unit was nearly perfect.
“We knew we were better than we were last game,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said during the Orange Bowl post-game awards ceremony.
The Bulldogs will have a chance to avenge a poor line of scrimmage performance where, uncharacteristically, they were bullied in an SEC championship game. While Georgia had no problem pressuring opposition quarterbacks all season, the team failed to sack against Alabama a few weeks ago.
But the Bulldogs’ athletic defense, as motivated as it is at Lucas Oil Stadium, will face Alabama’s offensive line at its best.
When the Crimson Tide struggled on offense during the regular season, it was often due to inconsistencies in the way their offensive line worked. Against Auburn, numerous pass defense failures allowed the hitters to easily take down quarterback Bryce Young (he was fired seven times).
However, in the conference title game, Young had the time and defense he needed to find receivers in the bottom of the field and play with his feet. And against the Bearcats in the Cotton Bowl, the Crimson Tide offensive line gave way to runner Brian Robinson Jr. race to the pinnacle of a career as Alabama ran past Cincinnati to advance to the title game.
The championship match – if it is not disrupted – will be the 72nd meeting between the teams. Alabama has won the last seven, and this will be the seventh consecutive season that the SEC has sent at least one team to a national championship game.
Collegiate football, while the pandemic has certainly interrupted it in many ways, has lasted most of this season with few interruptions until bowl games begin. But as a highly contagious variant of Omicron has led to a spike in cases across the country, leagues have shuffled their schedules, several bowl games have been canceled, and college football playoffs have changed their health protocols in hopes of keeping the most important games.
Late Friday night, with minutes to go before defeating Michigan, the Bulldogs looked ready to pour a cooler of cold liquid over the winning coach’s head.
Instead of partaking in a playful celebratory gesture, Smart spoke pointedly to his players, brushing off their attempts to take an early shower.
After one of the best seasons in recent years, a familiar enemy awaits them. The work is not finished yet.