The time of college football chaos is upon us, November football is where championship seasons are decided. This weekend in the SEC will be no different. The top two teams in the conference, The Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide, both face tough road tests against ranked opponents. This showdown weekend could cement these two teams’ collision course for Atlanta and the SEC title game. It could also create the kind of chaos we are used to in college football.
At The Top
For the second time in two sets of rankings, the Bulldogs and Tide are ranked 1st and 2nd by the College Football Playoff committee. Alabama is used to this, having played in all three playoffs since its inception in 2014. This is a new challenge for Georgia though, as they are having a season to remember. The Bulldogs head coach, Kirby Smart, was the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide during their first taste of playoff football, so it is not completely foreign to him.
There is still a slight chance that both teams could end up in the playoff, even after one loses to the other in the SEC title game. We are still a ways away from that happening though. First up, they have to survive the pitfalls of November football. Each team took care of solid opposition this past weekend. Bama beat LSU and Georgia held off South Carolina, both at home by a 24-10 score. Now they both go on the road to face ranked opponents as the Tide travel to #16 Mississippi State, and Georgia heads to #10 Auburn.
Nick Saban’s Alabama team seems to be cruising through the season. It is not as if they have it easy, but they have yet to really be challenged in a game. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to put up solid numbers. He has 1,406 passing yards and sits at ten-to-one in touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hurts is also second on the Tide with 616 rushing yards and seven scores. The young signal-caller has not been asked to make clutch throws or to carry this team with his passing ability.
Alabama’s dominance in the run game and on defense has kept them out of “must pass” situations. Hurts steady growth will need to continue because as November football heats up, the competition will stiffen. He will be needed to make plays through the air at some point. Calvin Ridley is the clear cut number one target in the passing game. He has 44 receptions for 584 yards; no other Tide player has over 15 catches.
Alabama wins in the trenches. They smother teams with their defense, allowing only a nation’s best 9.8 points per game. Even with the rash of injuries they have had on that side of the ball, Saban’s team continues to replace talent with talent, keeping up the same lofty standard of excellence. The other staple to Bama’s success is the power run game. Damien Harris is averaging a ridiculous eight yards per carry this season. His 730 and ten touchdowns lead the team. Harris, along with Hurts’ running ability out of the pocket and the monstrous Bo Scarbrough pounding teams into submission late in games, makes it easy to see why the Tide has yet to be forced into passing situations.
Continue the Trend
Alabama heads to Starkville, MS to take on the Bulldogs this weekend. The Tide have demoralized Mississippi State the last two seasons by a combined score of 82-9. The Bulldogs have only scored more than 10 points in this match-up once since 2010. Mississippi State is led by star quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and a stingy defense. Fitzgerald will need to have a big game if they stand a chance. The run game will look to take advantage of the injuries to Bama’s line-backing core, but big plays through the air will also be needed.
Expect a loud and rowdy crowd in Starkville, ringing the cowbells and trying to will their team to the upset. If they can keep it close and keep their crowd into it, it will be interesting to see how Alabama reacts to a tight ball game late. The Tide will look to continue the trend of smothering the Bulldog offense and pulling away as the game wears on.
These Bulldogs were thought to be better in Kirby Smart’s second season, but no one expected this. The defense has shown the most marked improvement, as they sit near the top of the country in points and yards allowed. They rank in the top seven nationally in passing, rushing, total yards, and points allowed per game. They sit at 9-0 and have already clinched the SEC East division title.
Like Alabama, the Dawgs are led by a deep stable of running backs. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are as talented as any players in the country. Each would be garnering Heisman or All-American acclaim if they were a one-man show somewhere else. Instead, the tandem is what makes Georgia so successful. As the game wears on and defenses get tired, the Bulldogs can just rotate NFL-caliber talent at running back. This is the ultimate comfort blanket for freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. Much like Alabama’s Hurts, Fromm is not asked to do too much. He has been able to rise to each challenge he’s faced so far this year.
The Deep South’s Deepest Rivalry
The Bulldogs travel to Auburn this weekend to face its toughest test since a 20-19 win over Notre Dame. The Auburn Tigers are the highest ranked two-loss team in this week’s playoff rankings. They still have an outside shot of crashing the party because they play both Georgia and Alabama this month. November football is not only when chaos can hit the championship picture, but it is usually when rivalries take center stage. The Bulldogs and Tigers have been playing each other since 1892. Georgia leads the series 57-55-8, including nine of the last eleven.
While the Bulldogs have the edge recently, both of Auburn’s wins were during runs to the National Title game. In a match-up of teams with strong defenses and power running games, the battle at the line of scrimmage will be key. Kerryon Johnson leads the Tigers with 868 yards and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Jarett Stidham is at his best when the running game gets going and he can utilize play action to get the ball downfield. These teams mirror each other in the ways they win. Both have fast and physical defenses and rely on their ground game to control things. One big difference is Georgia’s depth in the backfield, while Auburn will rely mostly on Johnson with Kam Pettway out injured.
From November Football to the Playoff
Alabama and Georgia both need to continue winning to get in the playoff, but their paths are set in that direction. This is old hat for the Crimson Tide as they seem to be here every year. For the Bulldogs, this is new territory. It will be interesting to see who these two excellent teams navigate through November football. If so, their eyes will be set on the SEC title game and even greater challenges down the road.
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