The end of the line has finally arrived. A showdown in Atlanta will crown a new national champion, and it should be a slobber-knocker.
Alabama and Georgia are playing, and some people need to get over it
We have finally arrived at the end of the 2017 college football season with one final game remaining to determine who will be crowned national champions. Well, besides UCF, but we’ll talk about the Knights in a little bit. Alabama and Georgia will collide Monday night in Atlanta in the College Football Playoff national championship game and will mark the first title game involving two teams from the same conference. That seems to have some people riled up, but it shouldn’t.
The whole idea of the four-team playoff was to find the four best teams to determine a national champion. There will be some years when multiple teams from the same conference will be in that field, and if the four-team playoff had been in existence prior to this current system, that absolutely would have been true in some years. But this is the first time it is happening under the current playoff model and it includes two teams from the SEC.
The SEC may not be the deepest it has been during the glory years of the BCS era, but Alabama and Georgia were deserving of being included in this year’s playoff, and didn’t need their performances in the semifinal to prove it.
Having two teams from the SEC play for the title has led to arguments advocating for playoff expansion, but that won’t eliminate the possibility of having two teams from the same conference play for the championship again. If anything, it will increase the chances that will happen.
So sit back and enjoy the game, even if you cannot stomach the thought of another SEC team winning it all. This game should be a good one, regardless of conference affiliations.
Nick Saban vs. Kirby Smart
The history of Nick Saban against his former assistants has been well documented by now. A season-opening victory against Jimbo Fisher and Florida State improved Saban’s record to 11-0 when he faces coaches who previously worked on his staff. This will be the second time Saban goes up against one of his former assistants in the College Football Playoff, and Kirby Smart is hoping to fare much better than Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio did just two seasons ago.
Saban has been whipping his former assistants in head-to-head matchups impressively, but this game might be different. Alabama may still very well win the game, but don’t expect Georgia to be dominated the way Dantonio’s Spartans or Fisher’s Seminoles were in their recent clashes with the Tide.
Smart has the best-equipped team to challenge Alabama than any former Saban assistant has ever had. With Georgia’s running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, a defensive playmaker like Roquan Smith, and an extremely cool and confident freshman quarterback in Jake Fromm, these Bulldogs are the most well-rounded team to take on Saban that any other former assistant has dreamed of having.
Talent is one thing, of course, but the battle of coaching wits is another. Smart has certainly been impressive since his arrival at Georgia last season, but will he feel the pressure to try a trick or two to keep Saban off-guard? This is the same team that attempted an onside kick at the start of a game against an overmatched opponent, remember. With the stakes this high, it would not be unexpected to see Georgia try a trick early on to establish some momentum. It would be a gamble, and gambling against Alabama is typically unwise. But Smart has shown he is not afraid to roll the dice to get Georgia to this game.
How will this all-SEC national title game do in the ratings?
One of the talking points leading to the College Football Playoff was the down rating that the 2012 All-SEC BCS title game received. The 2012 BCS Championship Game between Alabama and LSU drew 24.2 million viewers, which is not bad at all, but by comparison was disappointing. The 14.0 rating was the third-lowest of the BCS Championship Game era and the lowest rating the game received since being pulled off network TV and placed on ESPN.
Here we are again with two teams from the same conference playing in the championship game. Will that lead to a relatively low TV rating? The good news is this year’s championship game may be between two SEC teams, but is not a rematch like the 2012 BCS national title game. We have not seen Alabama and Georgia yet. And we have two teams from great college football markets, so the ratings will still be very good overall. But compared to past championship games, that should be the concern.
This will be the third straight championship game involving teams from the southeast, which may see a continued decrease in interest from other regions around the country. The total viewership for the CFB Playoff national championship game boomed in the first year with Ohio State and Oregon bringing in 34.1 million in 2015. The following season saw a drop to 26.7 million for the first title game matchup between Alabama and Clemson, and that number dipped to 26.0 million last season.
A matchup of Georgia and Alabama could see a mild increase in viewership this season, but getting closer to that first year is going to be a struggle considering the location and regions these championship contenders are from.
OK, but who wins?
I’m going with Alabama as your winner for a couple of reasons. First, I really like this Georgia team, but they do not play the kind of game that typically gets the better of Alabama. Georgia plays the kind of game that Alabama can handle, and the Tide are not going to allow Chubb and Michel to run for long touchdown runs as frequently as Oklahoma did.
What Georgia’s offense did to Oklahoma was incredible, but the Sooners had their biggest question mark on defense. Alabama’s defense is among the best in the country, as their domination of Clemson just demonstrated. That makes this game much more balanced and even, and that plays to Alabama’s advantage.
The AFCA was flat out wrong to invite Art Briles to speak
The American Football Coaches Association has their annual convention planned around the national championship game, which makes perfect sense. Every year, coaches are invited to speak at forums and lectures to help colleagues from around the sport at all levels develop skills and enhance their own methods. This year, the AFCA was under fire for inviting Art Briles to speak about the experiences he had at Baylor in the wake of scandal and how others can get through those setbacks and prevent them from happening.
Are you freaking kidding me? This was the most tone-deaf speaker invitation imaginable from the AFCA.
I have to gather my thoughts. I’m not even sure how to respond to this. https://t.co/SC5V9mtWcT
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) January 7, 2018
Following the negative reaction following the report from The Athletic, the AFCA released a statement saying Briles will no longer be speaking.
Art Briles’ session at the American Football Coaches Association convention has been canceled. pic.twitter.com/uIQQT20ZDy
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) January 8, 2018
Can others learn from Briles’ experience at Baylor? Yeah, absolutely. But they shouldn’t need to hear from Briles, who denied his wrongdoing for far too long.
If you want to crown UCF, then crown them!
I have zero problems with UCF claiming to be the 2017 national champion. I won’t look back on the season and say “That was the year UCF won it all,” but will have no issues in recognizing UCF as the only undefeated team during the season and endorse allowing their players to be rewarded for doing everything asked of them.
There is not much more you can do than win all of your games. Ending the year with a victory over the only team to hand Georgia and Alabama a loss during the regular season is as strong a case as any you can make at this point.
If you have a problem with UCF enjoying living in their moment, then I recommend just biting your tongue and moving on.
North Dakota State is back on top
Congratulations to North Dakota State on winning the FCS national championship on Saturday. The Bison returned to the top of the FCS world by scoring revenge on James Madison a year after the Dukes bounced the Bison out of the FCS playoffs a year ago. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup was a good defensive battle, and the Bison took the advantage on that side of the football by forcing some key turnovers and coming up with great stops to prevent JMU from getting some points in key spots.
The Bison have won six of the past seven national championships now at the FCS level. Looking ahead to 2018, there are no FBS opponents on the schedule, but we’ll still be keeping a close eye to see what this program does next fall.