The State of College Football: Natty Preview
With one game left on the college football schedule I am both excited and sad. This week we will look at the National Championship, Alabama, Georgia and a light preview for the 2022 season. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
Monday night we get an SEC Championship rematch of the two best teams in college football: Alabama and Georgia. Alabama was victorious in their first meeting, winning 41-24, but people will tell you it’s hard to beat a good team twice - unless you’re clearly the better team. In fact, if we go back to the 2011 National Championship, we saw a rematch of LSU vs Alabama. Alabama had lost during the regular season 9-6 but later won the National Championship 21-0. So, if you’re thinking you won’t watch the game because “you’ve already seen it once” I would advise that you do watch.
The historically great Georgia defense struggled against Alabama and quarterback Bryce Young in their first matchup. Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns but Alabama will be without star receiver John Metchie in the Natty and Alabama did not have the success through the air they were looking for without Metchie against Cincinnati. The key for the Georgia defense won’t necessarily be getting after the quarterback, Young is too good when pressure or improvising, but sticking with the Alabama receivers. Georgia is loaded in the secondary with Derion Kendrick, Kelee Ringo and Ameer Speed at corner - the trio should give the weakened Alabama receivers a good test and will have help from safeties Christopher Smith and Lewis Cine. The strength of the Georgia defense is on the defensive line where they are led by Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Jalen Carter. The Dawgs were great at stopping the Bama running game in their last matchup and will have to be excellent again on Monday night. Even though I’ve already given a shout out to the Georgia secondary and defensive line, the linebackers are equally impressive and the best linebacker corp in the Nation. Nolan Smith, Quay Walker, Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindal are all NFL prospects and show great versatility in coverage, run defense and as pass rushers. Now, all this looks good here but this amazing collection of talent still has to face a lights out Alabama offense.
The Alabama offense is led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and Young has already proven he is the best quarterback in the Nation but he has struggled in two big games this year - Auburn and Cincinnati. It should be noted that Bryce Young “struggling” is still better than most quarterbacks. But the sophomore signal caller will have another big tst on the biggest stage. Young will have help from a talented skill position group with receivers Jameson Williams and Slade Bolden and running back Brian Robinson Jr. But the Alabama depth we’re used to isn’t quite there due to injury. Robinson was exceptional in the College Football Playoff game against Cincinnati but the Georgia defense has slowed the Alabama running game once already this season. In order for Alabama to find success again offensively they’ll need the offense line to clear rushing lanes and keep the offense balanced.
On the other side of the ball we find the Alabama defense led by sophomore linebacker Will Anderson Jr. Anderson led the Nation with 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss - the fact he wasn’t a Heisman finalist still pisses me off - and he has also recorded at least one sack in his last eight games, including two against Cincinnati. Georgia’s offensive line will have their hands full with Anderson but they also have to remember that Bryan Young, Phidarian Mathis, Christian Harris and Henry To’o To’o are very good on the front seven as well and they’ll need to be to slow down the Georgia rushing attack. The Alabama secondary is always one of the best coached units and this year is no different. Veteran Josh Jobe and Jordan Battle lead the group but youngsters Malachi Moore, Brian Branch and Kool-Aid McKinstry all have a bright future for the Tide. Alabama can withstand the Georgia running game but they need to force Georgia into passing situations as often as they can.
Georgia can win this game but it can’t be from Stetson Bennett. Bennett has been solid all year and Georgia needs him to be again in the Natty but the skill position players are going to have to be the playmakers for Georgia to win. Luckily, they have some of the best skill position players in the Nation. Zamir White and James Cook are two of the top running backs in the SEC and have carried the Bulldogs to a 13-1 record while rushing for nearly 200 yards per game and scoring 39 points. The Georgia defense gets a lot of credit, as they should, but Georgia can put points up too. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers already has draft scouts excited about his potential but he has also been productive. His 52 catches, 846 yards and 12 touchdowns all lead Georgia and Alabama might not have anyone to match up with his size and athletic ability.
Georgia desperately needs to play ahead of Alabama and maintain a lead. The Dawgs do not have the offense to win in a shootout or play from behind. A solid running game and short passing attack should keep the clock going and Bryce Young off the field - don’t ask too much from Stetson Bennett and let your playmakers make big plays on the ground after the catch or through the run game. The Georgia defense should be able to keep Alabama in check but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on blitzing Bryce Young. Young has been dangerous out of the pocket and when forced to improvise. Be ok with letting Young run for four or five yards or he will torch you downfield for fifty.
Alabama needs to force this game into Stetson Bennett’s hands. Put Georgia into 2nd and 3rd and long situations where they have to get away from their run game and play action. That sounds much easier than it is though. Only two teams have been able to hold Georgia to under 150 rushing yards this year - Clemson and Alabama. Both games resulted in Georgia’s lowest scoring performances and worst games. Stop the run and you stop Georgia. Again, tougher than it sounds and if you load the box Georgia does have big play ability at receiver and tight end.
Score: Alabama 34 Georgia 24
Betting: Alabama +2.5, Over 52
Georgia and Alabama have been dominating college football and the NFL draft for a few years now. I was looking at the number of draftable prospects playing in the National Championship game (15 for Georgia, 16 for Alabama) this year and it made me think of the past talent that is in the NFL for each team.
Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Running Back: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Running Back: Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Receiver: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Receiver: Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Tight End: OJ Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
OT: Jedrick Wills Jr., Cleveland Browns
OT: Jonah Williams, Cincinnati Bengals
OG: Landon Dickerson, Philadelphia Eagles
OG: Deonte Brown, Carolina Panthers
Center: Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Line: Quinnen Williams, New York Jets;
Defensive Line: Jonathan Allen, Washington Football Team
Defensive Line: Daron Payne, Washington Football Team
Linebacker: Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots
Linebacker: C.J. Mosley, New York Jets
Linebacker: Rashaan Evans, Tennessee Titans
Corner: Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
Corner: Patrick Surtain, Denver Broncos
Safety: Landon Collins, Washington Football Team
Safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quarterback: Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Running Back: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Running Back: D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Receiver: A.J. Green, Arizona Cardinals
Receiver: Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Tight End: Charlie Woerner, San Francisco 49ers
OT: Isaiah Wynn, New England Patriots
OT: Andrew Thomas, New York Giants
OG: Trey Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
OG: Ben Cleveland, Baltimore Ravens
Center: David Andrews, New England Patriots
EDGE: Leonard Floyd, Los Angeles Rams
EDGE: Azeez Ojulari, New York Giants
Defensive Line: John Jenkins, Miami Dolphins
Linebacker: Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears
Linebacker: Alec Ogletree, Chicago Bears
Linebacker: Monty Rice, Tennessee Titans
Corner: Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
Corner: Eric Stokes, Green Bay Packers
Safety: Richard LeCounte III, Cleveland Browns
Safety: J.R. Reed, New York Giants
Last week I gave my Top 25 Players for 2022 and this week we’ll look at some of the top teams for 2022.
The Blue Bloods stay on top with Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia returning a TON of talent and I expect a bounce back season from Clemson. Clemson also returns a young team and even though they’ve lost their OC and DC, I’ll give the Tigers and Dabo Swinney another chance. Outside of the top four there are not many teams that stick out to me. Notre Dame is ready to rally around Marcus Freeman but they still need production from that offense and they are losing running back Kyren Williams. Texas A&M is bringing in the top recruiting class but still has questions at quarterback and which veterans are returning on offense. Oklahoma is usually a top five team but there is too much uncertainty there for me to have any confidence in the Sooners. Lincoln Riley and USC may actually be the better team next season with the return of Jaxson Dart at QB and the talent in the receiver room. A sneaky team out of the Pac 12 could be Utah with Cam Rising back and building off a Pac 12 Championship in 2021 while Oregon could be facing a down year. The Big Ten returns interesting teams, per usual. Will Michigan bring back Jim Harbaugh after his most successful season? Can Wisconsin return to running the ball and playing stellar defense? Even though the Big 12 will eventually lose Texas and Oklahoma, they have Baylor and Oklahoma State, which played very well this season and are beginning to look like the top teams in the future Big 12. Speaking of the future Big 12, what will Cincinnati look like in 2022? The Bearcats are losing damn near everyone except head coach Luke Fickell. And I’m not certain Fickell will return. Another team that I’m cautiously optimistic about is Arkansas. The Razorbacks return good veteran leadership on defense, a young offense and quarterback KJ Jefferson. Arkansas could make some noise in the SEC in 2022.
Please ditch the "Natty" references. You sound juvenile.