Wiedmer: Georgia should get revenge on Bama in CFP title game

AP photo by Brynn Anderson / Alabama quarterback Bryce Young runs past Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter for a touchdown during the SEC title game on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.

Could this major college football season end any other way?

Alabama versus Georgia for the national championship?

Was there ever any real doubt?

When you own two of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, and you're the only two teams to have been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 during the season, you probably should both advance to the title game, which is what happened in New Year's Eve victories by Bama over previously undefeated Cincinnati, 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl, and Georgia over Michigan, 34-11 in the Orange Bowl.

But there's a catch this time around as Kirby Smart prepares to face the Crimson Tide for the fifth time since becoming the Bulldogs' boss before the 2016 season. Despite his 0-4 mark against Bama since leaving Nick Saban's staff to return to his alma mater, Smart's going to win this one and deliver Georgia its first national title in 41 years.

It might not even be all that close. At least it shouldn't be.

There's no question that the Tide, the reigning national champions, have the best quarterback on the field in Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. Bama probably also has the single best defender in linebacker Will Anderson. Not the best defense, mind you, but the best individual defender.

They might even have the best running back in Brian Robinson, the Tuscaloosa native playing a final time for his hometown U.

But everywhere else on the field, Georgia's better. And healthier. And hungrier, given the Tide's Southeastern Conference title game upset of the Dawgs, who were No. 1 at the time of that meeting.

Without that win in Atlanta in early December, of course, Alabama doesn't even reach the CFP, which means the Tide wouldn't have been on the field to thump the Bearcats.

As for Georgia, if the Bulldogs hadn't been undefeated before the SEC title game, they wouldn't have made the playoff field either, which means they wouldn't have crushed Michigan in Friday's second semifinal.

But both SEC giants won those games, and with New Year's Day victories by fellow SEC brothers Arkansas over Penn State, 24-10, and Kentucky over Iowa, 20-17, the reputation of the league as the country's best football conference is at least partly restored after a horrid 1-5 start to this bowl season.

Especially since the conference where "it just means more" now holds down both spots in the national title game, scheduled for 8 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 10, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"I'm not interested in celebrating that," Smart said of the team's Orange Bowl win. "We'll look back on that win and that'll be great, but we're focused on the task ahead, and that's the objective. They worked their tail off for three to four weeks to get this opportunity, and it was a one-game season, and now it's another one-game season."

photo AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, left, celebrates with players after the Bulldogs beat Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The SEC has been here before, conference brother against conference brother for the national title.

LSU lost to Alabama in the BCS title game after topping the Tide during the 2011 regular season. Alabama defeated Georgia in overtime in the CFP final at the conclusion of the 2017 season. To return to those games is to see Saban's genius when it matters most. Having lost in overtime to LSU in early November in 2011, he tweaked his defense, opened up his offense and won the rematch - in New Orleans of all places, less than 90 miles from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge - by shutting out the Tigers, 21-0.

Struggling against Georgia inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the heart of Atlanta at halftime of the CFP title game four seasons ago, Saban put freshman Tua Tagovailoa in at quarterback for a beat-up Jalen Hurts, targeted freshman wide receiver Devonta Smith - who went on to win the 2020 Heisman Trophy - and won in OT on a long toss from Tagovailoa to Smith.

Throw in the loss to Bama in the next year's SEC title game in the same stadium when Hurts returned to lead the Tide after Tagovailoa was hurt, as well as this season's SEC championship game defeat, and it's easy to see why a lot of Georgia fans - and Bama backers - like to say that Saban lives rent free in Smart's head.

Maybe that's unfair. After all, Smart isn't the only former Saban assistant to struggle against him. After knocking off Georgia in the SEC title game last month, Saban now stands 25-1 against former assistants, the lone loss coming to Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M this past October.

Beyond that, Bama had all the emotional edges last time. Lose to the Dawgs and there would be no playoff spot. Bama was also a solid underdog, so the players could get behind the "disrespected" mantra. And Georgia seemed to be a little overconfident, which understandably grew after jumping in front 10-0.

But the key driver in erasing that deficit beyond Young was wideout John Metchie, who made several big catches in the second quarter that day. Metchie was hurt, however, later in the game and lost for the season with a knee injury.

No Metchie could give the Tide next to no chance in the rematch, especially with a couple of other Alabama players out and sometimes maligned Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett having played magnificently against Michigan.

So a tad more than a week from the CFP title game, the view from this corner is that Smart becomes the first Saban assistant to best him when it matters most. Make it Georgia 28, Alabama 17, and put the Bulldogs on top of the college football world for the first time since some guy named Herschel ran wild in 1980.

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.