The College Football Playoff National Championship is finally here with a rematch of the SEC Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs.
Which team will be the champion? What are the best bets?
Our VSiN experts Adam Burke, Tim Murray, Bruce Marshall, Steve Makinen and Matt Youmans are here with their breakdowns and best wagers on Monday night's game.
National Championship: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia (-2.5, 52.5)
8:00 p.m. ET
Burke: Alabama’s heightened sense of urgency has been cited as the reason why the Crimson Tide handily beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs were already in the College Football Playoff regardless of that outcome, but Alabama needed to win in order to get in.
Maybe that is true and maybe it played a part, but after a slow start, Alabama turned a 10-0 deficit into a 38-17 lead by scoring 38 of the next 45 points. It was an aerial assault from Bryce Young, and quite possibly the performance that won him the Heisman Trophy. He did lose top target John Metchie III in the process, but this is Alabama. Four-star and five-star dudes that would start as freshmen at programs across the country are on special teams or not even dressed for the Tide.
The Bulldogs have those types of players, too, but their recipe for success is not conducive to playing a team like Alabama. Georgia runs the ball very effectively and beats every team up in the trenches. We saw it against Michigan. We saw it in every game during the regular season. It just doesn’t work to the same degree against the Tide.
In the first game, Stetson Bennett was forced to throw 48 times. He wound up with some decent numbers, and Brock Bowers proved to be a tough matchup at tight end, but Georgia doesn’t have success or win football games by throwing 48 times. That’s what Alabama has success doing. That’s what Alabama can do in this game, too.
Georgia should be better prepared, but so will Alabama. The 10-0 start may simply have been a byproduct of a miraculous win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl that gave the Tide a chance at making the CFP.
Ultimately, my plan of attack for the title game is to look more at the prop betting markets and I will post some things over the weekend as more of those become available. As far as the spread itself, I have to take Alabama getting points. Georgia deserves to be favored and some respected money has held this line in check. The Tide just have a better chance at making Georgia play left-handed, so to speak, by taking away their strengths. I’m not sure Alabama’s passing attack can be neutralized.
Pick: Alabama + 3 (shop around, they're still out there)
Murray: Alabama head coach Nick Saban has won seven National Championships (six at Alabama) and is 4-0 all-time against Kirby Smart. The Crimson Tide are led by a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Young. Alabama dismantled Georgia, 41-24, in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 4. But Alabama enters the game as an underdog? How?
Despite the loss in the SEC Championship game, Georgia has been the most dominant team in the country this season. The Bulldogs only won one game by less than 17 points this season and led the nation with a + 27.8 scoring margin. Alabama was no slouch, finishing third in scoring margin at + 21.3. And of course, in the head-to-head matchup, the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs by 17.
Injuries are a big concern for Alabama heading into the National Championship. Metchie tore his ACL in the second quarter of the SEC Championship. He had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown before sustaining the injury. He also led the Crimson Tide with 96 receptions on the season. His absence was not felt in the CFP semifinal since Alabama rushed for 301 yards. The Crimson Tide will not be able to run with much success against Georgia. The Bulldogs dominated Michigan up front in the CFP semifinal, holding the Wolverines to under 100 yards rushing (only time this season). Additionally, RG Emil Ekiyor hurt his shoulder against Cincinnati and RT Chris Owens is dealing with an ankle injury. They were both listed as questionable earlier in the week. On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama will likely be without CB Josh Jobe, who missed the CFP semifinal due to turf toe surgery, and CB Jalyln Armour-Davis was in and out of the lineup against Cincinnati dealing with a hip injury.
One of the most surprising stats from the SEC Championship was that Georgia did not sack Young. Alabama is 102nd nationally in sacks allowed with 38. Young was sacked seven times in the Crimson Tide’s overtime win over Auburn. Expect the Bulldogs to dial up more pressure in Indianapolis with Metchie out and a banged up offensive line.
If history is any indicator, Georgia is in a good spot to avenge its lone loss of the season. In 2011, Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season but shutout out the Tigers to win the National Championship, 21-0 (Smart was on Alabama’s staff in 2011). In 1996, Florida State beat Florida 24-21 in the regular season, but the Gators destroyed the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl to claim the National Championship. In 2017, Georgia was crushed by Auburn, 40-17, in the regular season but a month later cruised past Auburn, 28-7, in the SEC Championship.
Young locked up the Heisman Trophy thanks to his performance in Atlanta against Georgia. He threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. Bettors will likely continue to pile up on Alabama moneyline bets throughout the final Sunday of the NFL season and leave Georgia moneyline at a bit of a discounted price. Yes, Saban is 5-1 SU as an underdog since 2008. Yes, Smart had never defeated his former boss. Yes, Alabama has the better quarterback. But at the end of the day, Georgia’s dominant defense will rise to the occasion and help the Bulldogs claim its first National Championship since 1980.
Pick: Georgia ML
Marshall: Mention of the most-recent meeting on Dec. 4 in the SEC Championship Game is worth further examination, partly because the dynamics last month in Atlanta were completely different from what we’ll get at Lucas Oil on Monday. Specifically, there was no urgency on the part of Georgia in the first meeting, other than the chance to likely knock the Tide out of the playoff. The Bulldogs’ place in the Final Four was already secure, and many SEC insiders (especially those close to the Georgia side) suggest the Bulldogs’ reaction (or non-reaction) after blowing a 10-0 lead was merely an extension of the lack of necessity to win the game. Indeed, the clash turned over about a 15-minute span in the second and third quarters because five Bama possessions led to 31 points, as Young effectively wrapped up the Heisman. Those 15 minutes accounted for almost 40 percent of the mere 83 points that Smart’s granite-like defense had allowed the entire season into Atlanta, and mostly the work of Young, who finished with 421 yards passing and four TDs (three passing and a rushing).
The suspicion is Young is going to have to pull some of those same rabbits out of his hat in Indy, as the Tide is unlikely to be able to play the same smash-mouth style that worked so well in the Cotton Bowl semifinal win over Cincy. This is a Georgia defense that allowed fewer than three yards per carry this season and stonewalled Michigan in last Friday’s Orange Bowl semifinal. Indeed, Bama only ran sporadically last month against Jordan Davis and the wrecking machine Georgia defensive front that was playing at a generational level for most of the season, and it's hard to believe Bill O’Brien's game plan will focus upon feeding RB Brian Robinson, Jr. for another 204 yards as was the case against the Bearcats (Robinson gained only 55 yards in the SEC title game).
Still underrated, we believe, is the Bulldog offense that scored 39 PPG itself this season and for the most part moved pretty freely in the SEC title game, though Bennett was guilty of a couple of mistakes that short-circuited any Georgia comeback plans in the second half. Smart, however, wisely stuck with the livewire Bennett in the Michigan semifinal and was justly rewarded, as Bennett was near-flawless in leading a 521-yard attack and diffusing a fierce Michigan pass rush with his mobility. No Herschel Walker in the mix, but Georgia’s RB-by-committee approach features plenty of functional slashers who gained an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in 2021, while frosh TE Brock Bowers (10 catches in SEC title game; 12 TDs for the season) has emerged as a reliable underneath target.
In conclusion, we're not downgrading Bama for the many close calls it survived this season; after all, we still believe pulling games out of the fire is the highest championship-level quality, as the Tide did this season in nailbiters vs. Florida, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn, losses against any of which would have probably kept them out of the playoffs.
Over the course of the season, save those 15 or so minutes in Atlanta last month, Georgia simply looked like the best team in the country. And we suspect the Bulldogs will have had enough of hearing all week about the Tide being their kryptonite, and irrespective of the point spread will approach this rematch with an underdog mindset. This time, when Georgia gets a lead (as Smart has done consistently vs. Saban), we don’t think Georgia gives it back.
Pick: Georgia -2.5
Makinen: It was about six or seven weeks ago when I proclaimed that I felt Georgia could not win a national championship with Bennett as its quarterback. While he has wildly outperformed my expectations overall, I still have to point to the SEC title game versus Alabama as reason for my continued belief of that. While his two interceptions weren’t specifically to blame for the 17-point loss there, I’ve always doubted whether or not the Bulldogs could keep up with Young and the Tide if that offensive unit was to fire on all cylinders. Sure, Georgia’s defense is good, and figures to make some adjustments after what happened in Atlanta that day, but that contest was decisive, and literally only two games ago.
Since that game, ‘Bama demonstrated it had a pretty potent running game too in the win over Cincinnati. Obviously the history of Saban and his 3-0 SU/ATS record as an underdog with Alabama has been widely shared since the line for this game came out, but the fact that SEC underdogs in the title game are 7-0 ATS is another significant factor. Being an underdog is an insult to a SEC team at this point in any season, and few people play cards like that better than Saban. When I look at other national title game trends, I see that teams that have scored 31 points are 17-3 SU & 16-4 ATS in these games. To me, there is a much better chance the Tide reach that key figure. I’ll go with Alabama in an “OVER” type of game, let’s say 34-24, as there are several angles, including the number pushing down since opening, that indicate that side of the total is the way to go.
Pick: Alabama + 3 (shop around!)
Youmans: It all starts with the coach and quarterback. It mainly starts with Saban, arguably the greatest coach in college football history, and the advantage he gives Alabama in a big game.
Saban’s edge also has a lot to do with the superior talent he’s coaching, and Georgia will field a talent level that’s relatively equal to the Crimson Tide. One major exception is at the quarterback position though, where Alabama has Young.
The Bulldogs are the favorites in a rematch of the SEC title game mostly due to their defense. Georgia was ranked No. 1 for a majority of the season and coasted into the conference title game with a defense allowing 6.9 points and 230 yards per game.
Media hype and stats can be misleading. I bet Alabama + 6.5 in the teams’ first meeting partly because the Georgia defense had not been tested by a talented passer such as Young, who has speed receivers capable of stretching the field. Young passed for 421 yards and three touchdowns without an interception as the Tide rolled over the Bulldogs 41-24.
It’s doubtful Young will have the same success against a Bulldogs defense that got a wake-up call the first time around, but he’s a better bet to make clutch plays than Bennett.
Aside from Young, Alabama has elite NFL prospects at outside linebacker (Will Anderson Jr.) and wide receiver (Jameson Williams). The Tide will have the three best players on the field and an ace on the sideline. Saban is 4-0 against Smart.
It all comes back to the underdog having the better coach and quarterback. I bet Alabama + 3. While the number has changed, the pick remains the same.
Pick: Alabama + 2.5
Murray: Robinson looked like an unstoppable force against Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff semifinal, rushing for a career-high 204 yards. Earlier in the season, the Crimson Tide had a similar game plan against Ole Miss and Robinson finished the game with 171 rushing yards; Georgia’s front seven is a different monster. In the CFP semifinal, the Bulldogs were the only team this season to hold Michigan (winner of the award for nation’s top O-line) under 100 yards rushing.
Alabama defeated Georgia in the SEC Championship but Robinson only rushed for 55 yards on 16 carries. Additionally, the health of Crimson Tide offensive line is in question, with RT Owens (ankle) and RG Ekiyor (shoulder) nursing injuries
If the Crimson Tide beat Georgia for a second time this season, it will likely be because of the Heisman Trophy winner on the roster. Young finished with 461 total yards (421 passing, 40 rushing) against the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship. Do not anticipate another herculean effort from Robinson on the ground.
Pick: Robinson Jr. Under 70.5 rushing yards (South Point)
Murray: Georgia WR Pickens tore his ACL last March and returned to action in the Bulldogs’ regular season finale against Georgia Tech. Pickens has played three games this season and has four catches for 55 yards. As a freshman, Pickens was Georgia’s leading receiver in 2019 and had 36 catches for 513 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Bowers is Bennett’s favorite target but Pickens provides the most explosiveness to the Georgia offense. Pickens hauled in a 37-yard reception against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama is expected to be without its top CB Jobe (turf toe) and CB Armour-Davis was dealing with a hip injury against Cincinnati. Pickens should be a target for some big plays on Monday night.
Pick: Pickens over 30.5 receiving yards (DraftKings)
Burke: As I wrote about in my pick, the game plan for Alabama in the SEC Championship Game was to throw the football. Running against a Georgia front that has allowed just 2.7 yards per carry makes no sense, especially with the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.
Alabama did have some problems protecting Young throughout the season, as opponents managed 37 sacks. Georgia had zero in the SEC Title Game. My guess is that the defense gets more aggressive and tries some more creative blitz packages, not to mention, Alabama has injury concerns on the right side of the offensive line.
As a result, I would think that O’Brien works in some more screens and swing passes to Robinson Jr. As I said, seven of his 16 carries in the first meeting came when the game was well in hand. His receiving yards prop is 20.5 and you have to think he’ll get featured more as a receiver with Metchie out and with a Georgia defense that doesn’t sit back on its heels as much.
Robinson may only need one or two grabs to get over this, but I think he is a much bigger factor as a pass-catcher than he was in the first game.
Pick: Robinson Jr. Over 20.5 Receiving Yards
Burke: Similarly, I think that Georgia made an astute observation in the first game that Cook was a better option than White in the backfield. White is the bruiser, but Cook is the more versatile player. In the first game, Cook had a season-high 15 touches, with 11 carries and four receptions. It stands to reason that he could get to or exceed that number in this game.
Georgia’s run defense is stout, but Alabama’s actually has better yards per carry numbers against. Bennett threw 48 times in the first game, partly because of the score, but also because Georgia felt like running against the Tide front was going to be a major challenge. White is more of a between-the-tackles runner, whereas Cook can be used in a lot of different ways.
To that end, I think Cook is used as a receiver with frequency in Monday’s game. My anticipation is that Georgia, like Alabama, will use high-percentage throws as an extension of the running game. That will give guys like Cook a chance to make plays in the open field. My thought is that his snap share will exceed White’s and that he’ll have opportunities as a receiver.
Pick: Cook Over 20.5 Receiving Yards