Alabama has a chance to repeat. Georgia has a chance for revenge.
The rematch is set, and it will decide the College Football Playoff national championship. After a pair of easy wins in the semifinals on Friday night, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs — the only two teams to be ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season — will meet again to decide the title on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
Alabama will be seeking a seventh national championship in the last 13 years under coach Nick Saban. Georgia is playing with hopes of claiming its first national title since Herschel Walker led the Bulldogs to the title in the 1980 season.
“I think we’re good enough,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said in the din of the Orange Bowl postgame celebration. “Obviously, they’re a great team. But we’re going to enjoy this one tonight and start preparing for them tomorrow.”
This matchup comes after Alabama — big underdogs entering that game — had little trouble in what became a 41-24 win over Georgia in the SEC championship game back on Dec. 4, costing the Bulldogs a chance at an undefeated season and giving the defending national champion Crimson Tide a trip back into the playoff mix.
Alabama needed that win.
Weirdly, Georgia felt it needed that loss.
“For our team, it was a wake-up call,” Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said that night. “I think we needed one. We got a wake-up call from a really good team. If we get a chance in the playoffs, I think that wake-up call will help propel us forward.”
Oh, the Bulldogs were awake on Friday night.
“To have another opportunity to play for a national championship … it’s like a dream come true,” Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. said after the Cotton Bowl.
Predictably, the Tide didn’t do much talking about Georgia following their win. Most teams would never go down that road, talking about an opponent in tournament play before the next matchup is actually set. But Georgia, playing the later game on Friday, probably could have let Alabama begin entering its thoughts probably somewhere around halftime when the Bulldogs had a 27-3 lead over the Wolverines.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the Orange Bowl. “We got to fix some of them over the break. They got about a five-, six-hour head start on us. We’ve got to get back and get to work for what is a really good football team.”
With all due respect to Michigan, by then, it was clear: The All-SEC rematch was happening. The first CFP title game saw Ohio State defeating Oregon. All seven editions since have featured at least one SEC team — Alabama six times, LSU once and now Georgia twice.
“Well, the team has an opportunity to win the national championship,” Saban said Saturday in an appearance on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” “So you expect to play a good team. We’re still probably going to be underdogs in the game, I would assume. Georgia played an outstanding game last night. The part that I saw against Michigan, they were dominant.”
Alabama has gone 3-2 in its previous CFP title game appearances, alternating wins and losses every time. Nobody in the CFP era has won back-to-back titles; Alabama is 0-2 in its opportunities to do so, and Clemson also lost when it had a bid for consecutive CFP crowns.
Georgia can only hope that trend continues.
Not only is this an SEC title game rematch, but it’s also a rematch of the best — or at least, closest and arguably most dramatic — title game of the CFP era, now in its eighth season.
Alabama and Georgia played for the CFP crown in Atlanta to close the 2017 campaign. Georgia led 13-0 at the half, but Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench and threw a game-ending 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that capped the Tide’s 26-23 overtime win.
The title game has been nothing but routs since: Clemson beating Alabama 44-16, LSU beating Clemson 44-25, Alabama beating Ohio State 52-24 last season.
Oddsmakers don’t expect a blowout this time around: Georgia was quickly established as a 2 1/2 point favorite over Alabama by FanDuel Sportsbook, that line being set before the Bulldogs-Michigan game had even gone final.
“We think we play in the greatest conference in the world,” Smart said. “We’ve got an opportunity to play a really good football team in Indianapolis.”
And it makes tons of sense that these are the last two teams standing.
The Tide and the Bullodgs spent six weeks ranked No. 1 and No. 2, in some order, in the AP Top 25 this season. Big things were expected of both teams from the outset: Alabama started No. 1, Georgia began at No. 5.
But even though Saban is 25-1 against his former assistant coaches — including 4-0 against Smart, who spent 11 years with him in Tuscaloosa — history says a rematch for the national title is a great sign for the Bulldogs.
In the 2011 season, LSU beat Alabama in the regular season. Alabama won the rematch for the Bowl Championship Series national title.
In 1996, Florida State topped Florida in the regular season. The Gators rolled past the Seminoles for the national title in what was then called the Bowl Alliance.
Now, it’s Georgia with a shot at turning the tide.
All it has to do is beat the Tide.
By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press
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