Frank previews the SEC Championship game

Frank previews the SEC Championship game

Greg Frank ('13), Eastside Sports Editor

As the calendar flips over to December, the topsy-turvy world of college football becomes a little less ambiguous.  Notre Dame is already in the National Championship game.  Tomorrow we’ll find out who they’re playing. It’s the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship.  Before breaking it down let’s take a look at how both teams have gotten to this point.

For Alabama it looked like they would be a shoe in for the National Championship game before the season even started.  For their first nine games it looked like that was the case as they won all of them as their defense did not allow more than 17 points in any of their first nine.  Then they ran into Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies.  In a game dominated in the first half by Texas A&M, Alabama fought back in the second half but it wasn’t enough as the Heisman trophy candidate and Texas A&M pulled the upset 29-24 and shook up the BCS picture.  With only one SEC loss and the tiebreaker on LSU, Alabama was still in the driver’s seat to win the SEC West. After winning their last two games by identical scores of 49-0, one of which came against in-state rival Auburn, and getting some help with losses from Kansas State and Oregon the loss to Texas A&M is an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.  While it helps Manziel’s Heisman candidacy immensely, the Tide were able to overcome the loss and now sit in a position to defend their BCS Championship from last year, but Georiga is standing in their way.

Georiga took a quietly-traveled road to tomorrow’s game in Atlanta.  Their loss came much earlier than Alabama’s as they fell on the road against Marcus Lattimore’s South Carolina Gamecocks on October 6th getting blown out 35-7.  At this point Georgia didn’t seem like a legit BCS threat but only three weeks later on October 27th after beating arch-rival Florida the Bulldogs were back in the mix.  They ran the table the rest of the way en route to the SEC East division title as they finished tied with Florida and held the head to head tiebreaker by virtue of their win against the Gators six weeks ago.  They’re playing in their second straight SEC title game hoping this year’s turns out better than last year’s 42-10 loss to LSU.

Offense: Both Georgia and Alabama have had their fair share of games this season in which they’ve tallied over 40 points.  Georgia’s junior quarterback Aaron Murray has eclipsed 3000 passing yards this season and enters the game against Alabama with 30 touchdown passes on the season.  Murray’s top target this season has been Tarvarres King who has caught 34 passes for over 700 yards and eight touchdowns.  While it’s not quite the Matthew Stafford-AJ Green connection that Mark Richt had the privilege of presiding over, Murray will look to King a lot through the air.  On the ground Georgia has two running backs that averaged over six yards a carry during the regular season.  Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both play a role in the Bulldogs running game.  Gurley has gone over 1000 yards on the ground this season and has 14 rushing touchdowns.  Both running backs have been extremely serviceable to Georgia’s offense this season and could figure into the game plan on Saturday.  For Alabama I’ve heard talk of quarterback AJ McCarron with regard to the Heisman. I can’t see it.  His numbers are impressive but having homerun hitters like Amari Cooper (averaging 17 yards per catch) and Kenny Bell (25 YPC) can only help.  While Eddie Lacy is the 1000 yard rusher in this offense I’ve been just as impressed with freshman running back T.J. Yeldon who has stepped right in and made an immediate impact and scored the game-winning touchdown against LSU on a screen pass.  If it weren’t for that big play from Yeldon him and the rest of the Crimson Tide would be watching LSU play in this game.  That being said I think Georgia is a little more explosive offensively.

Advantage: Georgia

Defense: Georgia’s defense is engineered by linebacker Jarvis Jones who could potentially be a top five pick in the NFL Draft in April.  Jones led the defense to the biggest win of the season for Georgia against Florida with 13 tackles and three sacks in a game he was needed most.  If Jones brings this knack for the big game into the game tomorrow afternoon Georiga may be primed for an upset.  Despite some of the high-scoring games Alabama has put together offensively, defensively they’re as stout as it gets such largely the reason why they’ve gotten to this point.  They’ve allowed less than ten points a game this season easily good for number one in the nation in points against.  Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the quarterback of this defense though the reason why they’re the best defense in the nation is because they have everybody going every Saturday.

Advantage: Alabama

Special Teams: Neither team has had explosive return games as both teams have returned only one kick for a touchdown this season.  Alabama punter Cody Mandell is averaging slightly more yards per punt than his counterpart for the Bulldogs Collin Barber but the glaring difference in special teams play between both teams lies in the legs of the kickers.  Albama kicker Jeremy Shelley has not missed a kick this season making all 60 of his extra points attempted and going ten for ten on field goals this year.  Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan has missed four extra points as well as four field goals thus far and if he leaves such points on the field tomorrow afternoon, the Bulldogs may end up with their second consecutive SEC championship game defeat.

Advantage: Alabama

Intangibles: The spread in this game Alabama -7.5.  To me that’s a little much.  I see this game coming down to the wire much like the Alabama-LSU game did in which Alabama was -9.5 and if it weren’t for T.J. Yeldon would have lost the game outright.  So whatever the odds makers were thinking I’m not buying in.  You have to think this could serve as motivation for Georgia because these two teams are 2-3 in the BCS Standings and all major college football polls you would think it would be a field goal spread at the most especially considering their playing on a neutral field.  Furthermore I think Georgia may still have a bitter taste left hanging in their mouth from last year’s SEC Championship.  These conference championships games are all or nothing.  Last year with a win Georgia would have been the BCS automatic qualifier from the SEC.  Instead they ended up playing in the Outback Bowl.  This year the importance of the game is even more imperative to Georgia as they can go to the National Championship game with a win.  From the Alabama side of things, you can look at the fact that they got the help they needed with the Kansas State and Oregon losses this season which makes it easy to get up for this game considering before the K-State and Oregon losses it didn’t look like they’d get a chance to defend their title.  Now they’re two wins away from doing just that so the ball’s in their court.  Nick Saban’s got some experience when it comes to winning big games so that can’t hurt either. That being said, I think there are a lot of emotions that Georgia could perhaps rally behind.

Advantage: Georgia

Prediction: I haven’t been in on Notre Dame this season and while I give them credit for earning their spot in the National Championship and beating ranked opponents like Michigan, Michigan State (at the time they played them), Stanford, and Oklahoma is impressive especially considering they were unranked to start the season and are now in the National Championship game.  But I think this SEC Championship has the potential to be the best game of the college football season.  Of course we don’t know what the other BCS bowl matchups are going to be but it’s hard to find a matchup better than this one.  Close throughout but Alabama makes one more play in the guts of the game. Alabama 24, Georgia 23.