A Blog on College Football and More by Jay Hawkins
Author: Jay Hawkins
Jay Hawkins is a sophomore in college and majoring in Journalism. He is a sports contributor at his local newspaper, former editor of FanSided's dawnofthedawg.com, former editor at his college newspaper and the founder of an award-winning sports blog (jaydawg.sportsblog.com.), former writer at armchairallamericans.com and much more. He is currently a writer at his own site fallenpylons.com and a contributor at beertalkinc.com.
Finally, the 2018 college football season starts this week, and I can honestly say I have never looked forward to a football season so much. College football is my favorite sport, and one of the reasons why is that there are so many storylines and question marks every season. That is no different this year. So, I meant to write a lot more preview articles before the season, but my schedule has not allowed me to do so. Anyways, I am cramming a lot of stuff in this one preview article. Let’s start with my CFB Playoff predictions.
CFB PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
1. Alabama (13-0)
Ah, yes, the Tide are my No. 1 seed this year. I don’t know if the Tide will be as strong on defense as they were last year as they lost a ton of experience, but as always, Alabama will reload and shouldn’t take much of a step back. Also, the 2018 Alabama offense could be the best Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa. (Yes, I am talking about with Tua Tagovailoa at QB because no way Jalen Hurts keeps the starting spot for long at least.) Combine that fact with a pretty easy schedule that includes Auburn at home, I see the Tide making the SEC Championship unscathed, and I got them winning a close one over UGA to be the No. 1 seed.
2. Wisconsin (12-1)
Is this the year Wisconsin finally gets over the Big 10 Championship hump? I think it is. Wisconsin is absolutely loaded this year. They return a large amount of experience, including nine guys on offense. Most notably, they return one of the best offensive lines in the country, and the sensational Jonathan Taylor is back for his sophomore season at running back. Also, the Badgers also return the veteran presence of Alex Hornibrook at quarterback.
Wisconsin’s schedule is tricky for once and includes trips to Michigan and Penn State. I think the Badgers split those two games and defeat whoever comes out of the crowded Big 10 East in Indianapolis in December.
3. Clemson (12-1)
Clemson will somehow find a way to lose a game they shouldn’t this year. It seems like a theme from Dabo Swinney for most years. Other than that, Clemson will again dominate the ACC and get back to the playoff again for a potential fourth consecutive matchup with Alabama.
If the Tigers want to make any noise in the playoffs though, they better start freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence over incumbent starting quarterback Kelly Bryant at some point. The rest of the team is scary good, especially that insane defensive line.
4. Oklahoma (12-1)
Yes, Oklahoma lost a Heisman winner at QB to the NFL in Baker Mayfield. However, I think former Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray will step up to the plate, and the Oklahoma offense with Rodney Anderson at running back and Marquis Brown and CeeDee Lamb at receiver won’t miss a beat. However, the Big 12 is finally improving, so I see the Sooners collecting a loss along the way. Let’s say they lose to Texas in the regular season then beat them in a rematch in the Big 12 Title game.
Two Teams on the Cusp: Georgia and Ohio State/Michigan
National Champion: Clemson but only if Trevor Lawrence is starting QB.
Yes, it’s no secret I am a big SEC guy, so of course I had to give my take on how the conference will play out in 2018.
Mississippi State (9-3)
Texas A&M (8-4)
Ole Miss (7-5)
Georgia (8-0, 12-0)
South Carolina (6-2, 9-3)
Missouri (5-3, 8-4)
Florida (4-4, 7-5)
Kentucky (1-7, 5-7)
Vanderbilt (1-7, 4-8)
Tennessee (1-7, 4-8)
Here are my SEC Game-by-Game Picks:
Yes, I picked Alabama over UGA in the SEC Championship game. Even though I have the Tide winning, it’s really a toss-up to me. I think UGA and Bama are both capable of reaching the CFB Playoff this year, and if my prediction of both of those teams going undefeated in the regular season holds true and enough chaos happens in the rest of college football, I could see both teams making the playoff again. (Yes, a UGA-Alabama rematch in the playoff would be unreal.)
However, I obviously had to pick someone, so I went with everyone’s favorite Alabama. On a side note, there is no doubt we’re going to see these two juggernaut teams battle it out for years to come. I truly believe Nick Saban and Kirby Smart are the two best coaches in college football. Yep, you heard me. I’d take Smart over Swinney or Meyer.
Alabama and UGA are clearly head and shoulders above anyone else in the SEC. (Auburn may creep into the picture down the road if they ever get rid of the choke job they call a head coach in Gus Malzahn, and LSU likewise with Ed Orgeron.)
Alabama, Georgia and Clemson are in the best situations of any programs in college football, and they’ll be in the playoff or in serious contention for years to come. (Note: I would have added Ohio State to this, but this whole Urban Meyer situation clouds things up. Yes, he’s gotten his slap on the wrist, but let’s be real. It is not over.)
Big Ten: Wisconsin
Big Twelve: Oklahoma
Pac 12: Washington
Conference USA: Florida Atlantic
Mountain West: Boise State
Sun Belt: Arkansas State
Like I said I apologize for the brevity of this article as it is definitely more of a bird’s-eye view of things. College football will be amazing as always, and I, for one, cannot wait for the official start of the season on Thursday. Before I go, here are my final predictions and thoughts for you guys. Bryce Love wins the Heisman. Texas is the bounce-back team of the year, and the Longhorns’ Tom Herman is probably coach of the year as well.
New hires Scott Frost and Dan Mullen struggle in their first year as head coach at Nebraska and Florida respectively. Things in Baton Rouge, L.a., are a complete disaster, and LSU fires Orgeron over the offseason and hires Lane Kiffin.
Urban Meyer should never coach in collegiate athletics again. Plain and simple. College football writer and former ESPN employee Brett McMurphy broke a huge story earlier today in the wake of former Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith being fired on July 23.
McMurphy filled in the details in the eye-opening article he posted to his Facebook page today. You can read that here.
In the article are text messages, pictures and a timeline of the long history of abuse and domestic violence perpetrated by Smith against his now ex-wife Courtney Smith. It is quite horrific to read. People can obviously read the details in Brett’s article, but safe to say, it does not look good for Meyer.
This article is very damning of one of the most high-profile names in all of collegiate athletics, and I believe Urban Meyer should be fired by Ohio State right away and never be allowed to coach college athletes ever again.
We’ve seen this story too many times. Joe Paterno at Penn State, Art Briles at Baylor and now Urban Meyer at Ohio State – What do they all have in common? They were all enablers.
And Meyer’s case is pretty damn bad. It seems (from this report by McMurphy) that he largely ignored the whole issue and did not take the right steps to actually fix the problem. We see this so many times in sports. The problem was that winning took precedence over people, and that’s a line you can’t cross.
College athletics, particularly big-time college football, are a high-stakes, cash-ridden affair that is loved by fans across the country almost to the point of religion. However, it is still just a game at the end of the day. Yes, that may sound like I am oversimplifying it, but it is the truth.
With the details that have emerged, Meyer should be done immediately at Ohio State. Other coaches have been fired for a lot less. This will likely go down as one of the biggest scandals in the history of collegiate sports, and Meyer is ultimately responsible.
Think for a minute if you’re child played for a guy that would rather stay focused on winning instead of taking the proper steps to stop domestic violence. Would you really want that message passed on even subliminally or indirectly to your kids?
This situation could have been solved so easily, and Meyer had so many opportunities to put his foot down but didn’t do anything for years. (Ok, not much.)
I think Meyer’s story is a good lesson for everyone. We should all be wary of ourselves and things going on around us. Don’t be naive and think your coach from your favorite school or someone on the coaching staff isn’t capable of the same thing. We are all human and stuff like this happens everywhere.
Fortunately, more of this kind of stuff is coming to light, and more people are being held accountable. However, there are still consequences in life, and that’s why Urban Meyer should never be allowed to coach in collegiate athletics ever again.
Anyways, I am indeed back to writing after a LONG hiatus. College football is so close to being back, and frankly, I am so excited. This is my personal Christmas. I live and breathe college football like probably everyone reading this.
This season (like every season) is filled with storylines and drama. There will for sure be a lot of suprises this football season, but I gave this my best shot. So without further ado, here is my preseason top 25 for the 2018 CFB season.
This was a close one for the battle for the top two spots, but I have Clemson edging out Alabama for the top spot. The Tigers return the best defensive line in all of college football, and it’s not even close. The likes of Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence will lead this year’s edition of a Clemson defense that was No. 4 overall in the country last year in total defense and will once again be among the nation’s best this season.
Combine that with an offense that returns weapons all over the field including running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, receivers Hunter Renfrow and Tee Higgins and whoever starts at QB for Clemson (more on that below), and one can see why this team is No. 1 in my poll.
The reason I have Clemson No. 1 is that I think true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence will ultimately win the starting job at some point in the 2018 season and never look back. The incumbent Kelly Bryant does a great job in his own right, but I think, if the Tigers want to go all the way and win the CFB Playoff, Lawrence will be the guy to take them over the top. (Did I mention Dabo Swinney is one of the few active FBS coaches to win a national title?)
Alabama as always is right at the top. Despite the Tide losing all but two starters on the defensive side of the ball, don’t look for Nick Saban’s team to take much of a step back if any. After all Saban, who has won five out of the last nine national championships at Alabama, is obviously at the point where he reloads instead of rebuilds.
The Tide again will have one of the best defenses in college football led by guys like Raekwon Davis (top returning tackler and sack leader) and Isaiah Buggs at defensive end, Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses at linebacker and more.
The offense could prove to be the best Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa, and that is quite the scary thought if the defense is just as good. 2018 CFB National Championship hero Tua Tagovailoa will eventually start at QB no matter what lies Saban tells to keep Jalen Hurts around. Tagovailoa will have a loaded backfield along side him with two of the best running backs in the game right now in Damien Harris and Najee Harris.
Receiver will be just fine as well as a bunch of fast and athletic guys will highlight the corps. (Looking at you Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy.) Alabama will again have one of the nation’s best offensive lines as well, so I don’t see the Crimson Tide taking much of a step back in 2018.
3. Ohio State
So yeah, the three teams in my top five so far look pretty familiar. All of these three blued-blood programs (Clemson has grown into one) are quite used to this situation. The Buckeyes are once again loaded as they return 12 starters including the best defensive player in the Big 10 and maybe the entire country in defensive end Nick Bosa.
Yeah, the little brother of Joey is making a name for himself too. He leads a Buckeyes’ defense that was one of the nation’s best last season and should be again this season. (Bosa led the Bucks with 8.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2017.)
The Ohio State offense will be a forced to be reckoned with this fall as the Buckeyes had the No. 7 offense in the country last year with J.T. Barrett at QB. Say what you want about Dwayne Haskins, but the quarterback play can only get better in my opinion. J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are two dynamic running backs, and Parris Campbell returns at wideout to give Haskins plenty of options to give the ball to.
Ohio State will again be the preseason favorite to win the Big 10 and reach the playoff. However, their path is far from easy as they have to navigate the toughest division in CFB – the Big 10 East. Oh yeah, guess who they’ll get in the conference title game too? A Wisconsin team that might be the best it’s had in quite a while.
Georgia burst on to the college football scene last season with a fantastic 13-2 season that included a dominant SEC Championship win over Auburn and a thrilling double overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs came up just short in the National Championship against Alabama, but the sleeping giant in Athens finally woke up and showed that Kirby Smart’s program is here to stay.
UGA will once again be in the thick of the CFB Playoff conversation as an SEC Championship clash with Alabama a.k.a. a play-in game for the playoff seems extremely likely.
Whether the Bulldogs make the playoff remains to be seen but they definitely have the talent to do so. UGA’s offense returns eight starters, which is headlined by Jake Fromm. Fromm has a year of experience under his belt, a backfield headlined by D’Andre Swift that will be just fine despite the loss of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and a receiving corps that will be one of the best UGA has boasted in years featuring Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, the electric Mecole Hardman and others.
The offensive line (which returns four starters) will be one of the best UGA has fielded in years. All of that to say UGA’s offense has the potential to be one of the best in the country. The defense is the bigger question mark as it lost a solid amount of experience (Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, etc.). It might not be as dominant as it was last year, but it shouldn’t take that big of a step back.
Can Wisconsin finally get over the (most likely) Ohio State hump and win the Big Ten Championship? I think there is a very good chance they do that this year.
Wisconsin is absolutely loaded this year, particularly on offense. The Badgers return nine starters including one of the best running backs in college football and a serious Heisman candidate in Jonathan Taylor. As a true freshman in 2017, Taylor set the FBS freshman rushing record with 1,977 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
Taylor will have the benefit of running behind a dominant offensive line led by Beau Benzschawel and Micael Deiter. The rest of the offense is in good shape as veteran signal caller Alex Hornibrook returns with a slew of talented receivers.
Their defense will still be solid despite losing a bunch of starters from 2017’s No. 2 defense in the country. Everyone can go ahead and pencil in Wisconsin to play in the Big 10 Title game, as their division of the conference doesn’t offer too much of a challenge. And who knows? Maybe, the Badgers will finally get it done in Indianapolis in December.
Losing a Heisman trophy winner in Baker Mayfield won’t be easy, but many (including me) think Kyler Murray is poised to do just fine running the show in Norman. The Sooners will once again have one of the best offenses in the country with Rodney Anderson at running back, wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb.
Now, can they survive a Big 12 that may offer actual competition in the forms of West Virginia and Texas? More on them later.
Quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin are back to run the show in Seattle as the Huskies dynamic offense are the reason why they are the favorites to win the Pac-12. Did I mention they also return nine starters on a defense that was top ten in the country last year? That won’t change in 2018.
Chris Peterson is one of the most underrated coaches in CFB. IF (and that’s a big if), Washington can get out of their own way, beat Auburn on opening day and charge through the Pac-12 unblemished, they’ll for sure be in the playoff. Easier said than done.
It’s starting to get in put up or shut up territory for Jim Harbaugh. Yeah, he’s been one of the biggest names in college football, drawn a lot of attention and had a lot of talent on his team. It’s time to produce this year.
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson may prove to be the missing piece Michigan is looking for and finally give them some decent quarterback play. The defense is absolutely unbelievable, and the rest of the team is in good shape. The biggest challenge for Michigan is navigating a tough division and actually beating Ohio State at the end of the year.
Another team that will be extremely dangerous this year is Miami. Mark Richt is resurrecting the program and building a powerhouse.
Miami is superbly talented, but their biggest question mark is at QB. Will Malik Rosier be the guy this season even though he struggled at times in 2017, or will Richt decide to go with someone different like maybe true freshman Jarren Williams? That remains to be seen.
The defense will be extremely good, and the rest of their offense will be fine. Can Mark Richt put his past demons aside of choking in big games and actually win the division and beat Clemson in the ACC title game? Answer=NO.
Auburn is talented. There is no question. If Gus Malzahn wasn’t their coach, they could very seriously have a chance to win the national championship. The Tigers certainly have the talent to do so.
They boast the best defense in the entire SEC on paper. Led by a stalwart defensive line featuring the likes of Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell and Derrick Brown, the defense has talent all over the field. Most notably, leading tackler and sack leader (tie between Brown and Davidson) Deshaun Davis (82 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017) returns to lead the defense at middle linebacker.
Offense will be fine with the talented Jarrett Stidham leading the charge at quarterback along with a slew of good wideouts. Can Auburn find a solid running back and depth at the position? We shall see.
The Irish will be a team to be reckoned with despite losing a lot of talent on the offensive line, Equanimeous St. Brown at wide receiver and Josh Adams at running back. Brandon Wimbush returns at quarterback though, and the Irish are not expected to take a step back.
Can Notre Dame survive Michigan in the opening weekend? That will say a lot about their season.
12. Penn State
Barkley is gone, but the veteran presence of McSorely returns as the Nittany Lions’ signal caller. McSorely is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football, and he is poised for an even bigger season now that Barkely is in the NFL. Defense is the big question mark (3 starters return) besides having to play in the grueling Big 10 East.
Bryce Love is the frontrunner for the Heisman. Having that is always gonna take a team far. David Shaw knows how to get the best out of this Stanford team as well.
14. Michigan State
Can I just make it clear that Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in college football? It’s not talked about enough. His team this year is definitely a contender in a tough Big 10 East. Having quarterback Brian Lewerke and running back LJ Scott in the same backfield never hurts either.
Is Tom Herman gonna build off the big bowl win over Missouri following a mediocre season and have a breakout year in Austin this fall? I think the time is now. Oklahoma may finally have some competition in conference.
No Darnold. No problem. Ok, not really, but USC is too talented to take a major step back.
17. West Virginia
Will Grier, David Sills V and the West Virginia offense under Dana Holgerson will kick ass once again this year. That side of the ball will keep them in every game. The problem is on the other side of the ball.
18. Mississippi State
Veteran Nick Fitzgerald returns at quarterback to run the show in Starkville. The Bulldogs have enough talent (17 returning starters including running back Aeris Williams, nose guard Jeffrey Simmons and end Montez Sweat) to challenge in the SEC West.
19. Boise State
Non-power five team to reach a New Years’ Six bowl game? That will probably be quarterback Brett Rypien and Boise State this year.
Scott Frost is gone to Nebraska, but the Knights should be very good again particularly on offense (No. 5 overall in 2017).
21. South Carolina
The Gamecocks are the second-best team in the East. An offense with Jake Bentley at quarterback and the explosive Deebo Samuel at receiver plus a pretty good defense should build off their comeback bowl victory over Michigan last postseason to have a solid year.
22. Virginia Tech
The combination of head coach Justin Fuente, QB Josh Jackson and defensive coordinator Bud Foster are nothing to be sneezed at. The Hokies will offer the only competition to Miami in the ACC Coastal.
Gary Patterson always finds a way for his team to be successful. It helps having arguably the best defense in the Big 12. (Yes, apparently that’s a thing.)
Prototypical quarterback Justin Herbert has NFL scouts drooling. The Ducks will be good again consistently if he stays healthy.
The Seminoles are not near as bad as their record showed in ’17. Also, Deondre Francois is back at quarterback with Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick at running back. The offense should be able to move the ball much more effectively than last season. Keep an eye on Levonta Taylor in the defensive backfield and Demarcus Christmas on the line as well.
I have kept my mouth closed for a while, but I will not tolerate this Hugh Freeze slander. I have been critical of Hugh Freeze in the past, but enough is enough. This is getting ridiculous. All this latest outrage from me started with this:
Now, in Greg Sankey’s defense (Sankey seems like a cool guy even though my only interaction with him is riding down the same elevator at a UGA game I was covering.) Hugh Freeze becoming an offensive coordinator (or at least a co-OC for now) under Saban at Alabama would be both unfair and inherently sinful.
Just think about Hugh Freeze coaching Tua Tagovailoa? That is a scary enough thought for God, himself, to intervene on behalf of all humanity.
But put that morbid thought aside. Could you imagine what this offensive genius could do at LSU? (Yes, LSU was rumored to be pursuing ol’ Hugh as an offensive coordinator.) He could possibly save the job of that proven loser, who somehow got the head coaching job at LSU. (Yes, I am talking about that unintelligible buffoon named Ed Orgeron.)
The fact that Sankey discouraged anyone from the SEC hiring Hugh Freeze ticks me off. Now, I will say it was cool to realize that there is someone out there with more power than Nick Saban in college football.
But please, people, let Freeze live his life.
There is a lot that people can criticize Freeze for, but his offensive coaching is not one of those things. I would put him up against any offensive mind in the country. He is a great head coach too.
If I were an athletic director in major college athletics, I would pull the trigger and hire the guy. Has he made his fair share of mistakes? Hell, yes. Freeze calling escorts is not an admirable thing to do, but that is ultimately an issue between him and his wife. A lot of guys would do the same thing if they were in that situation.
That is obviously wrong in my book, but everyone makes mistakes. I am all about giving a guy another chance. Now, clearly, the big reason an athletic director does not what to take a chance to hire Hugh is because of his NCAA troubles.
I would bet my house, though, that Freeze will be slow to pay players again or commit any violations after everything that has transpired. However, an athletic director should still take all the steps to make the environment Freeze is in one of accountability and transparency, so nothing like what happened at Ole Miss happens again.
I am not too naive to not realize that actions from your past can affect your future, but I think it is a little hypocritical in Freeze’s case. (Let me be clear. This is not a criticism of Sankey but just this whole moral high-horse hypocrisy in college football as a whole.)
What ultimately matters to employers (in most cases) is if your work good enough that it outweighs your baggage. I can list countless examples of this in all walks of life, but let’s keep it to football.
How do you think Bobby Petrino got a job again? How do you think Pete Carroll got a job again? I can go on. Let’s do a college basketball example. You think no school is going to take a chance on Rick Pitino again? Exactly, someone will because, even though he has a lot of baggage, he is a damn good coach.
Let’s also not act like Freeze’s NCAA problems of paying players is morally wrong in any way. Frankly, it makes more moral sense to actually pay the players that the NCAA and institutions are making millions off of every year. It is downright upsetting.
Also, don’t be naive that most (if not all) of the major institutions in college football are not paying players already. Now, it may be more hidden or based on boosters’ underhanded schemes, but pretty much everyone does it. Freeze just got caught.
So, I am imploring everyone to please leave Freeze alone. Everyone makes mistakes.
*Side Note: Yes, it has been quite a minute since I have written an article before now. I have done a lot of inward searching and have altered my career path. I am still not against writing online, but my interest in pursuing print journalism as a career is over. I will address this in full detail in a later post.
What a great New Year’s Day of college football earlier this week. It was outstanding. From some very entertaining bowl games to the two semifinal games later that day, it made for very good television.
The game of the day was without a doubt the first CFB Playoff semifinal game between Georgia and Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl. In my opinion, it was the best game I have ever watched in my short lifetime. The Bulldogs defeated the Baker Mayfield-led Oklahoma Sooners 54-48 in double overtime.
The Sugar Bowl balanced the excitement of the semis as Alabama simply dominated the Clemson Tigers. It was not even close. The Tide looked like their old selves. With the two victories, the stage is set for an all-SEC CFB Playoff National Championship in Atlanta this coming Monday.
Despite the childish whining by fans not in the South and some prominent members in the media, the best two teams are in the national championship period. (Don’t even start with the UCF argument. They would not stand a chance with any of the playoff teams.) It is going to be an interesting game with a bunch of storylines. Let’s get right into it.
National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Georgia
As I have said, this game has no shortage of storylines. Many people have waited in anticipation of seeing the latest coaching battle between the teacher (Nick Saban of Alabama) and the apprentice (Kirby Smart of UGA). The nation will finally get to see this. Saban is 11-0 against former assistants who have become head coaches, but this might be a different animal with Smart.
Saban and Smart have both had similar paths at Georgia and Alabama. Both coaches had disappointing seasons in their first year at the helm at their respective schools (7-6 for Saban and 8-5 for Smart). Both coaches bounced back with very successful seasons in their respective second years. Saban’s team went undefeated in the regular season before dropping their last two games to Florida in the SEC Championship and Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
Smart’s second year has been extremely successful so far. The Bulldogs went 11-1 in the regular season and then went on to avenge their embarrassing road loss to Auburn in November by beating the Tigers 28-7 in a rematch in the SEC Championship. With UGA’s latest victory in the Rose Bowl, Smart has gone further than Saban in his second year by reaching the national championship game against his former boss.
Smart and Saban seem to also be very similar as coaches. Saban is known to be very detail oriented, a next-level recruiter and an outstanding developer of talent. Smart seems to be in the same mold.
Alabama and Georgia are also very similar teams from the detail-oriented system that both coaches employ to their similar styles of stifling defenses and powerful running games and more. Smart came into Athens trying to make the Bulldogs the Alabama of the SEC East, and it seems like he has been pretty successful at doing it so far.
If there is any team in the SEC that can challenge Alabama consistently, it is Georgia. The nation will likely see this matchup in the SEC Championship for many years to come. Everyone knew that Smart and Saban would be destined to clash many times, but no one thought the first meeting would be in the national championship.
The game, itself, will feature the two most powerful teams in the country. Alabama is the early favorite in the game according to Vegas. They looked like the soundest of the two teams in the semis, particularly on defense. However, to ignore that UGA had to play the best offense in college football in Oklahoma in their game would be short-sighted.
This game will not be even close to UGA’s first game of the playoff. Expect a tight yet equally thrilling game this time around. Alabama will be led by their powerful defense that is led by an intimidating defensive line headlined by Da’Ron Payne (who had an interception and a touchdown catch in the semifinal against Clemson) and Raekwon Davis, Rashaan Evans at linebacker and Minkah Fitzpatrick in the secondary among many others.
The Tide defense as a whole is ranked No. 3 overall in the country. More importantly, Alabama has the No. 1 rushing defense (measured in average rushing yards a game) in the nation. They only give up an average of 2.43 yards per attempt. That will prove extremely important in this game, as they will face the best rushing attack they have seen all year. (That will come up later.)
On the offensive side of the ball, the Crimson Tide football team is led by a strong running game led by Damien Harris (983 yards) and Bo Scarbrough (573 yards) behind a stout offensive line. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is the second leading rusher on the team with 808 yards but has also passed for 2,060 yards and accounted for 25 touchdowns both through the air and on the ground.
The more interesting and impressive stat was that he only threw one interception all year. Say what you want about Hurt’s ability passing from the pocket, but the guy is quite the weapon.
Fortunately, Hurts has not had to win a game himself. The Tide have won behind their strong defense and running game. That might change in this game. This Georgia defense is not to be taken lightly.
The linebacking corps leads the Junkyard Dawg defense and is headlined by Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy on the outside. The defensive line is also one of the best in the country and is anchored by the 6-4, 309 pound Trent Thompson, who is the best of the many big, physical and athletic linemen the Bulldogs boast.
The “weak link” on the Dawgs’ defense is the secondary which has shown vulnerability at times this season. However, UGA still boasts the least passing yards per game allowed by any defense in college football.
Overall, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s stop unit comes in at No. 7 in total defense in college football. (The Bulldogs aren’t nearly as good stopping the run, although the metrics are skewed by their lone regular season loss to Auburn and by the fact that they played several run-oriented teams.)
The biggest storyline on the offensive side of the ball is easily the emergence of true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has not been asked to do a whole lot mainly by design in the Bulldogs’ run-first offense and because of his lack of experience. However, the youngster from Warner Robbins, Ga., has done an admirable job this season after he took over the job from the incumbent starter Jacob Eason after he was injured in their first game against Appalachian State.
Fromm has managed the offense well, been a great leader and made the throws he had too particularly in important situations. He has shown the poise and clutch factor that coaches want to see from their quarterback.
In my opinion, he has played his best football in the final three games of the season as he went 12-of-16 for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 75.0 completion percentage in UGA’s regular season finale against Georgia Tech. He then threw for 183 yards on 16-for-22 passing and two scores with a 72.7 completion percentage in the SEC Championship against Auburn.
In the Rose Bowl, Fromm put together his best performance (again in my opinion) and helped the UGA offense keep pace with the high-scoring Oklahoma Sooners. He was on point in the game as he completed 20 of his 29 total passes (69 percent) for 210 yards and two touchdowns.
Fromm’s job is made easier by a rushing attack led by the best rushing duo in college football history in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb has rushed for 1,320 yards this year, and Michel added 1,129 yards (average of eight yards gained per carry). The two star running backs have also combined for 31 touchdowns on the ground. True freshman D’Andre Swift has also proved to be a weapon as he has rushed for 603 yards and is also fourth on the team in receiving yards. (Some even think Swift could be a Heisman candidate next year as well.)
Both squads have very good weapons at receiver including guys like Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and Javon Wims and Terry Godwin of UGA. (I am not even mentioning the capable tight ends.) Both teams are pretty even as a whole.
However, on special teams, Georgia should get the overall nod. The only thing separating these teams is probably at kicker – an area that Alabama has struggled with all year. Andy Pappanastos of Alabama has looked very shaky at times this season, but Rodrigo Blankenship of UGA has been excellent this year and currently holds the longest field goal in the history of the Rose Bowl (55).
To sum it all up, Alabama-Georgia should make for one outstanding championship game. This game has all the storylines one could ask for: the Evil Scientist (or coach in this instance) versus his capable understudy, two outstanding defenses versus two excellent rushing attacks, two teams from the same conference facing off for the national title for the first time in the playoff era and more.
I am not going to pick this game. I have learned that I cannot pick bowl games. (Thank God, I don’t bet.) I will say I could see either of these teams winning. I see both teams matching up pretty fairly even in the trenches. If one team proves they can get the upper hand on the line of scrimmage, the game is over. However, I think this matchup will ultimately come down to the performance of the two quarterbacks and who will make a play. (Turnovers and special teams’ play are always a factor as well.) It is pretty simple in my opinion.
Either way, it should be a very exciting game, and I couldn’t be more excited to see a champion be crowned on Monday night in the metropolitan capital of college football – Atlanta.
The UGA football program is starting to realize its potential. It has been a long time coming.
I feel like I am decently familiar with UGA, as I grew up watching them a lot since I live in the state and have previously covered them a solid amount. The Bulldogs (football-wise) have always had so many advantages over many of its peers.
For one, the school is the premier athletic institution (particularly in football in the state), and it is not really that close. Georgia is also a football recruiting-rich state, so getting talent to come to the school is never a problem if the person in charge is not totally incompetent.
The team also has a strong history and a winning tradition. No, it is not an Alabama, a Michigan, a Texas, a Notre Dame or an Ohio State, but it still has a very good history.
It has also developed into one of the true blue blood programs in the country. After the winning drought of the ’90s following the Vince Dooley glory days, Mark Richt took over in 2001 and saw much success at the Georgia helm. Also, more than that he was a consistent winner. One could always expect the Bulldogs to win around ten games most seasons.
With that, the program’s status as a power in this millennium went up. While Richt was a very good head coach and an even better individual, he could not seem to win the right games at UGA as his teams were known to show up small in big moments.
The Georgia fans yearned for more. They wanted to compete and win more championships, and that was something Richt did not seem to be able to do, particularly in the latter part of his coaching career in Athens. He seemed to have hit his ceiling at Georgia.
The first main warning sign in Richt’s tenure at Georgia (in my opinion) was in his ninth year. The Bulldogs struggled mightily in 2010 even though they had plenty of future talent on the team. They backed their way into a bowl game with their win over Ga. Tech that year.
In one of the worst games of football I have ever seen, UGA somehow lost an almost unwatchable game against non-Power 5 UCF in the Liberty Bowl, 10-6. Georgia did not even manage an offensive touchdown in the game. The main thing I remember from that game was that Georgia had a first down on the 12-yard line, ran the ball three times behind an offensive line that had several future NFL players on it but could not manage to get three yards against UCF and settled for a field goal from the UCF three.
That train wreck of a game was arguably the lowest point of the Georgia program of the decade. Fortunately for the Richt regime, the dark days soon ended as Georgia signed an excellent recruiting class in 2011, which played a major factor in them winning the SEC East that year (after a rough start).
The following year was extremely successful for Georgia but proved to be an anomaly. Despite having arguably one of the most talented Bulldog teams ever, Georgia somehow fell just short in the SEC Championship and a shot to go to the national championship. The next two years, Georgia had more mind-blowing losses, but Richt still survived.
The 2015 season was a different story as everyone found out. A lot of Georgia fans had given up hope and accepted what they would get with Richt. The Bulldogs started the season on a bright note at 4-0, and fans felt positive leading up to their showdown with Alabama in Athens.
But this soon changed as the Tide embarrassed Georgia at home. The season was over when the Bulldogs lost to Tennessee (despite being up 24-3 at one time) and got blown out by Florida (27-3).
UGA went on to a decent record that year at a solid 10-3 mark. However, the Dawgs did not defeat a single team with a winning record and won ugly a lot (9-6 over a bad Missouri team in Athens, an overtime victory over Ga. Southern at home, etc.) The final game of Richt at Georgia proved to be the last regular season game of the year as Georgia barely beat a 3-9 Ga. Tech team.
The Georgia athletic department had finally had enough, and Richt was fired soon after. Many people criticized Georgia for the move, but the rational UGA fans knew it was for the best as long as Georgia got the right guy.
The critics of the move pointed to how Tennessee handled the Fulmer firing and the mediocrity that happened after that. People said that Georgia should be content with winning nine or 10 games a year, as a lot of teams would love to be in those shoes.
But UGA is not just anyone. It is one of the best jobs in the country and should be competing for and winning championships on a consistent basis. (The Bulldogs had not won the SEC since 2005.) That was not happening anymore.
Firing a solid head coach can cause problems if one does not have a plan, but UGA athletic director Greg McGarity and the others in leadership had one. They quickly pulled the trigger and hired Kirby Smart.
Smart was the perfect guy for UGA and proved to be a home-run hire. (I, for one, thought Smart would be great at UGA and advocated for him before Richt was fired.)
Smart made perfect sense for several reasons. First, UGA was his alma mater, and he grew up in the state as he hailed from Bainbridge, Ga. His father was also a well-known high school football coach in the state of Georgia, so Smart already had an amazing relationship with coaches in the state (which he helped develop on the recruiting trail) and bolstered his prowess as an outstanding recruiter. Finally, he had already gained a lot of valuable experience, serving as defensive coordinator and assistant under one of the best coaches in Nick Saban of Alabama.
The Georgia leadership banked on the fact that he would bring all his prior experience, recruiting acumen and “the Process” to Athens. And, indeed, he did.
Smart’s first season was definitely rocky at times (not an uncommon occurrence for a first-year head coach) as Georgia went 8-5 and could have gone 11-2 if the ball bounced right. However, Georgia finished with a positive ending to the season when they defeated TCU in the Liberty Bowl.
Smart’s program starting making real waves on the recruiting trail as Georgia hauled in a historically good class (No. 3 overall). The class of 2018 was not the same though. It was slow at first, as players just like fans were seeing if Smart was going to fulfill his promises.
He sure did. The Bulldogs went 11-1 in the regular season and won the SEC Championship in dominant fashion (28-7) in a rematch with Auburn and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. Dominant can describe their season as well. The Bulldogs gave up an average of only 13.2 points per game, and that number was skewed by the regular season loss at Auburn. They also averaged 34.9 points a game, which is a nice improvement from 2016. Most notably, Georgia defeated every single team it lost to last year.
Now, enter the present day. We are mere days away from UGA’s Rose Bowl date with Oklahoma with a chance to advance to the National Championship. Regardless of what happens in the game, the sleeping SEC giant Georgia is finally starting to wake up and contend and win championships.(It also finished Signing Day Pt. 1 with the program’s first No. 1 overall class in history.)
Smart has proven he is the right man for the job. Georgia is back. It’s about damn time.
The College football regular season is already almost a third of the way done, which is crazy to think about. Over the first four weeks of college football, we have learned a whole lot, but there still are so many questions left to be answered. Let us take a quick look at my weekly SEC power rankings, my CFB Playoff top four and two teams right behind them and my SEC weekend picks.
SEC Power Rankings
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0)
The Tide are on top once again and for good reason. They went into Nashville last weekend and came out with one of the most physically dominant conference wins of the Nick Saban era. Heck, they held Vanderbilt to 67 total offensive yards and zero points and put up 677 yards and 59 points on the Commodore defense. Alabama is loaded at pretty much every position (except kicker). No one in the SEC will be able to beat them this year. In all honesty, it will be a surprise if they do not beat every team by multiple touchdowns. They are that good.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0)
Man, Georgia really looks impressive. I will be the first to say that I picked Mississippi State to come into Athens and upset the Bulldogs on Saturday night. I just did not fully know what to make of this UGA team. How I was wrong. Georgia absolutely dominated the other Bulldogs. It was apparent from the opening whistle.
The defense led by ultra-talented inside linebacker Roquan Smith and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter and others is one of the best in the entire country. The offense is not too shabby either led by a tough running game. This is the best Georgia team I have seen since probably 2012. I would not be surprised if the Bulldogs run the table the rest of the way in the regular season. They are that good. They should win every game left on their slate, but will they?
3. Auburn Tigers (3-1, 1-0)
I am not really high on Auburn, but the conference looks so weak at this point that I have to put them at No. 3. It is honestly head-scratching that the league has looked pretty mediocre outside of Georgia and Alabama. (I believe it goes back to coaching as I have reiterated a lot.)
Even though Auburn has not looked great on the offensive side of the ball at times, their defense has played well, and the Tigers had a nice 51-14 win over Missouri. (Yes, I know it is Missouri, but Auburn putting up 51 points against anyone is something they will take.) The Tigers have the talent to still be a force this season. They will face a big test this weekend when they host Mississippi State on the Plains. That will go a long way in determining the landscape of the West.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1)
MSU got exposed against a very good Georgia team on Saturday night. They are not going to seriously challenge Alabama this year, but they can still have a very good season. Nick Fitzgerald will have success against a lot of the teams he plays this season. How will he handle the challenge of going into another hostile environment in Auburn, Ala., this Saturday? That will tell a lot.
5. LSU Tigers (3-1, 0-1)
LSU have had an up-and-down season so far. That is for sure. After a dominate early wins over BYU in Week 1 and Chattanooga in Week 2, the Tigers got boat raced 37-7 in Starkville against MSU and then struggled at home against Syracuse last week. The injury-plagued squad should have another easy outing against Troy this Saturday before traveling to Florida next Saturday in a game which will tell a lot about the two teams. Hopefully, Derrius Guice (whose status is up in the air for this weekend) will be fully healthy for that one. LSU is so much more enjoyable to watch when he is out there.
6. Texas A&M Aggies (3-1, 1-0)
Big overtime win over Arkansas last weekend was nice, but Kevin Sumlin’s firing is still only a matter of time.
7. Florida Gators (2-1, 2-0)
The Gators were lucky to get out of Lexington with a win last week. They are not near where they were last season, but they should still probably contend in a crappy East.
8. Kentucky Wildcats (3-1, 1-1)
They are never going to beat Florida. It is written in stone.
9. Tennessee Volunteers (3-1, 0-0)
Butch has to go. How do you barely beat UMass?
10. Vanderbilt Commodores (3-1, 0-1)
Never talk trash about Alabama. We all see the result (59-0).
11. Arkansas Razorbacks (1-2, 0-1)
Ol’ Bert should be gone. No excuse. Enjoy another mediocre season, Arkansas fans.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1)
The Gamecocks survived against La. Tech at home. Congrats.
13. Ole Miss Rebels (2-1, 0-0)
NCAA probs and Bryant-Denny this Saturday has such a good ring to it. Doesn’t it?
14. Missouri Tigers (1-3, 0-2)
Absolutely pathetic. Yep, that is all I got.
CFB Playoff Rankings
Alabama Crimson Tide
Penn State Nittany Lions
Two teams looking in: USC and Michigan
Week 5 SEC Picks
Florida over Vanderbilt
Arkansas over New Mexico State
Georgia over Tennessee
Kentucky over Eastern Michigan
Auburn over Mississippi State
LSU over Troy
Texas A&M over South Carolina
Alabama over Ole Miss
That’s all I got right now, folks. Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydogg.