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5 national championship thoughts on Alabama vs. Georgia

Why Stetson Bennett is the most interesting player and why Nick Saban owes Jimbo Fisher one.
Alabama and Georgia are headed for another big-time matchup in Monday's national championship game.
Alabama and Georgia are headed for another big-time matchup in Monday's national championship game. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | Associated Press ]
Published Jan. 5

After another pair of blowouts in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Monday’s national championship between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia has the potential to be a classic. Here are five random thoughts on their upcoming meeting in Indianapolis:

Related: Alabama crushes Cincinnati in Cotton Bowl, cruises to national title game

1. The playoff needs to expand.

Alabama and Georgia also met in the national championship to end the 2017 season.
Alabama and Georgia also met in the national championship to end the 2017 season. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | Associated Press (2018) ]

You’re forgiven if you roll your eyes at another big Georgia-Alabama game. A rematch of the January 2018 national championship and this season’s SEC title game was predictable. There are no easy fixes, but expanding the playoff field is the best option.

Maybe one team gets hot and makes a deep run. Maybe a heavyweight slips up in an extra game. Either way, a stale postseason would get a jolt of energy and hope from new faces in the mix.

The groups that oversee the CFP are expected to meet this weekend to discuss expansion. Perhaps they finally move this time.

2. It’s hard to tell who the rematch favors.

Slade Bolden and the Crimson Tide knocked off Georgia in December's SEC title game.
Slade Bolden and the Crimson Tide knocked off Georgia in December's SEC title game. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | Associated Press (2021) ]

There’s an old saying that it’s hard to beat the same team twice, but recent history doesn’t bear that out. In the playoff era, 13 Power Five conference championships have been rematches of regular-season games. Teams that won the first time are 7-6 in the second game, including Utah this season.

In 2011, LSU beat Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide 9-6 in the regular season; Saban beat the Tigers 21-0 in the BCS national championship. Six years later, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs lost by three scores to Auburn in November and beat the Tigers by three scores for the SEC title.

Georgia and ‘Bama will try to balance repeating what worked in last month’s SEC championship (a 41-24 Crimson Tide triumph) with adding new wrinkles.

“I don’t think you do everything the same,” Saban said, “but I also don’t think you can make a lot of changes that the players are not going to go out and be able to play and execute with confidence.”

3. It’s hard to overstate what this means to Georgia.

Georgia hasn't won a national title since 1980, the year of the famous "Run, Lindsay, run" play against the Gators.
Georgia hasn't won a national title since 1980, the year of the famous "Run, Lindsay, run" play against the Gators. [ Times (1980) ]

Not just the Bulldogs, but the entire state. Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980. As of Tuesday, that’s a span of 14,978 days, according to an orange and blue website that tracks that figure. The Gators may or may not have mocked that drought by listing their 2019 spring game attendance of 39,476 — as in 39 years and 476 games (at the time) since Georgia’s last title.

“Is it just another game? No, I’m not silly,” said Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett, a Georgia native. “But I don’t think for 20-year-old kids you can put that kind of pressure on yourself because you might go crazy.”

4. Bennett is the game’s most important player.

Can Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett lead the Bulldogs to a national title?
Can Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett lead the Bulldogs to a national title? [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press (2021) ]

Though Bennett has been effective — his 178.05 passing efficiency ranks fourth nationally — it’s fair to question his ceiling. Of the eight national champions in the playoff era, all but two were led by quarterbacks who became top-15 overall NFL draft picks. Bennett is closer to Jake Coker (the Florida State transfer who won it all at Alabama in 2015 and went undrafted) than Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (who beat ‘Bama the next year in Tampa’s title game).

‘Bama rallied to top Georgia in their last CFP meeting by benching Jalen Hurts for Tua Tagovailoa in the gutsiest call of Saban’s career. If Bennett struggles, would Smart consider doing the same in favor of JT Daniels?

5. Saban should thank Jimbo Fisher.

Earlier this season, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat the Crimson Tide coach.
Earlier this season, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat the Crimson Tide coach. [ SAM CRAFT | Associated Press (2021) ]

The former FSU coach became the first Saban assistant to beat his old boss with Texas A&M’s 41-38 upset in October. Saban said his team — which starts only two seniors — may have “lost respect for winning” before falling at Kyle Field.

“I think it made people realize the importance of leadership, setting a good example, holding each other accountable,” Saban said. “I think there were a lot of internal lessons that actually helped this team mature and grow.”

And those lessons got ‘Bama back to the national title game.

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