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College Football Gets Its Inevitable Georgia-Alabama Title Rematch

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Georgia, the defensive mammoth, and Alabama, the perennial juggernaut, gave the impression to be on a collision course to the highest of faculty football all season.

They got a shot at one another within the Southeastern Conference championship in December — a game wherein the Bulldogs barely resembled the behemoth they’d been from their first game. On Friday, each team romped past its College Football Playoff semifinal opponent, earning the prospect to satisfy again in the sport for the national crown in Indianapolis on Jan 10 — if the sport shouldn’t be disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Alabama (13-1), which has won six national titles under Nick Saban (he took over the team in 2007), advanced to its sixth national championship game since 2015. Georgia (13-1), a program that has come close but has not won a national championship since 1980, advanced to its second national title game in five years (the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in additional time in 2018).

Alabama, after pummeling Ohio State in January to cap one of the dominant seasons in college football history, entered the 2021 season with the remaining of the nation in its wake.

Living as much as last season’s output appeared unlikely, because the Crimson Tide — which lost a handful of players to the 2021 N.F.L. draft, including their 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith — barely edged out Florida of their SEC opener and lost to Texas A&M lower than a month later.

Georgia, which entered 2021 with the country’s top-rated recruiting class, in keeping with 247Sports, took over the No. 1 spot because it rolled through its schedule and went unbeaten in conference play.

And Alabama, despite its inconsistencies, remained a top-five team heading into its regular-season finale against Auburn. Saban, stern as ever, admonished his fan base’s criticisms of his team’s imperfections ahead of the Iron Bowl in late November.

“After I got here here, everybody was completely happy to win a game,” Saban said on his radio show. “Now we’re not completely happy to win a game anymore.”

Per week after their Iron Bowl win, though offensively stagnant in the sport, the Crimson Tide smashed the nation’s best defense, amassing over 500 yards of total offense against a Georgia team that was only allowing about 250 yards per game. Before surrendering 41 points to Alabama, the Bulldogs had given up greater than 13 points in a game just once this season.

The loss dropped Georgia Coach Kirby Smart, once an assistant coach on Saban’s Alabama staff, to 0-4 against his former boss.

Afterward, Smart told reporters that the embarrassing loss after an undefeated season did little damage to the Bulldogs’ psyche.

“What it did was reinvigorated our energy,” Smart said. “It re-centers you.”

That was apparent in Georgia’s 34-11 thrashing of No. 2 Michigan within the Orange Bowl, a physical game wherein the Bulldogs’ defensive unit was nearly perfect.

“We knew we were higher than what we showed last game,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said through the Orange Bowl’s postgame trophy ceremony.

The Bulldogs could have a probability to avenge a poor performance at the road of scrimmage where, uncharacteristically, they were bullied within the SEC championship game. While Georgia had no trouble getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season, the team did not record a sack against Alabama a number of weeks ago.

However the Bulldogs’ athletic defense, as motivated as it’ll be at Lucas Oil Stadium, will face Alabama’s offensive line at its best.

When the Crimson Tide struggled offensively through the regular season, it was actually because of inconsistencies within the performance of its offensive line. Against Auburn, multiple breakdowns in pass protection allowed rushers to have easy avenues to bring down quarterback Bryce Young (he was sacked seven times).

Within the conference title game, though, Young had the time and protection he needed to search out receivers downfield and to make plays together with his feet. And against the Bearcats within the Cotton Bowl, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line made way for running back Brian Robinson Jr. to rush for a profession high as Alabama ran past Cincinnati to advance to the title game.

The championship matchup — if it shouldn’t be derailed — shall be the 72nd meeting between the teams. Alabama has won the last seven, and it’ll be the SEC’s seventh straight season sending no less than one team to the national championship game.

College football, though definitely disrupted in quite a few ways by the pandemic, made it through most of this season with few interruptions before bowl games began. But because the highly contagious Omicron variant led to a nationwide surge in cases, leagues shuffled their schedules, several bowl games were canceled and the College Football Playoff modified its health protocols in hopes of preserving an important games.

Late Friday night, with seconds remaining before their win over Michigan was finalized, the Bulldogs looked able to dump a cooler of cold liquid on the winning coach’s head.

As an alternative of participating within the playful celebratory gesture, Smart might be seen speaking emphatically to his players, waving off their attempts at an early shower.

After one in every of their best seasons in years, a well-known foe awaits. The job isn’t finished yet.

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