SEC Championship Preview

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Matchup: Alabama vs. Georgia
Date: Saturday, Dec. 1
Time/TV: 4:00 p.m. ET - CBS
Venue: Mercedez-Benz Stadium
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Line, Total: Crimson Tide -13, 63.5

A rematch of last season’s College Football Playoff finals will go down Saturday at the same venue that’s the home of the Atlanta Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This time around, however, it’ll be in the SEC Championship Game with a spot in the CFP at stake.

Of course, regardless of what moron analysts like former FSU quarterback Danny Kanell have to say, undefeated Alabama’s slot in the CFP is a given. The Crimson Tide will be invited regardless of whatever result we see on Saturday vs. Georgia. It’s UGA that’s attempting to return to the four-team playoff and must knock off the nation’s top-ranked team to do so.

This is the matchup we’ve all been waiting for and knew we could pencil in for the first weekend of December. Sure, Florida and Kentucky were better than most expected, putting up somewhat mild challenges for UGA to win the SEC East. LSU, with its home date with ‘Bama set to go down in Baton Rouge, appeared as if it might be capable of testing the Crimson Tide until it was dealt cream-cheese treatment by Nick Saban’s bunch in a 29-0 beatdown.

Before dissecting the differences in this year’s showdown, let’s look back at last year’s Instant Classic that ended with Saban collecting his fifth national title at Alabama since his arrival in 2007. Sixty minutes settled nothing on that Jan. 8 night in The ATL, with the outcome determined in overtime during a two-play sequence that has haunted the Bulldogs for nearly 11 months.

Georgia had raced out to a 13-0 intermission lead as second-year head coach Kirby Smart squared off against his mentor and former team where he spent nine years on Saban’s staff before returning to his alma mater to replace Mark Richt.

With Alabama struggling to score only 38 points in the 10 previous quarters, including a 26-14 loss at Auburn in the 2017 edition of The Iron Bowl and a 24-6 CFP semifinal victory over Clemson that was almost exclusively fueled by a Herculean effort out of the Tide’s defense, Saban decided to yank two-year starting QB Jalen Hurts in favor of true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. All Hurts had done was start the 28 previous games under center, amassing a 26-2 record in the process.

Yet it really seemed like a no-brainer move. Hurts just wasn’t playing at top form like he had for most of his reign as the starting QB that began in the second quarter of the season opener in his true freshman campaign. Although Tagovailoa was inexperienced, he had looked sensational in many mop-up duty performances and clearly presented more danger to UGA’s secondary with his cannon of an arm.

Things didn’t go smooth initially, though, as Tagovailoa was intercepted early in the third quarter. He would recover to find Henry Ruggs III for a six-yard scoring strike to trim the deficit to 13-7 with 8:52 left in the third quarter. But Georgia answered two minutes later when Jake Fromm connected with Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard TD pass.

With 5:15 remaining in the third, Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos’s 43-yard field goal cut the deficit to 20-10. Pappanastos would bury a 30-yarder to trim UGA’s lead down to seven with 9:24 left. Then with 3:49 remaining, Tagovailoa hit Calvin Ridley for a seven-yard TD pass to knot the score at 20-20.

Pappanastos would get another chance to seal the deal from 37 yards out on the final play of regulation, only to miss the potential game winner. On UGA’s initial possession of the extra session, Fromm was sacked to force a long FG attempt. Like he did the previous week on a 55-yarder to end the first half against Oklahoma, UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship nailed a 51-yard FG to put his team in front by three.

After Tagovailoa took a sack for a 16-yard loss to infuriate Saban on the first play of Alabama’s possession, his team faced a 2nd-and-26 play from out of FG range at the 41. Saban’s signal caller wouldn’t let him down this time. Tagovialoa took a deep drop and rifled a bullet to Devonta Smith that found him perfectly in stride for a 41-yard TD pass.

Game. Season. And a fifth ‘natty’ for the Tide in a dynastic nine-year stretch.

Georgia was denied its first national title since Herschel Walker donned No. 34 and led the Bulldogs to a Sugar Bowl victory under Vince Dooley. They were oh-so-very close but, as Smart stated afterward, “We’re not going anywhere.”

Ever since then, fans of both teams have been awaiting this moment, the one that arrives Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on CBS.

As of Friday afternoon, most books were listing Alabama (12-0 straight up, 8-4 against the spread) as a 12.5 or 13-point favorite with the total at 63.5. The Bulldogs were +375 on the money line (risk $100 to win $375).

For first-half wagers, Alabama was a seven-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 33. Bettors could take UGA to go into halftime with the outright lead for a +285 payout.

Remember, Alabama covered the number for first-half bets in each of its first 10 games. The Tide were losers in the first half of its past two games, however, going into intermission tied at 10-10 with The Citadel two weeks ago. Then last week, they had just a 17-14 advantage over Auburn at the break.

For the first time since Yale turned the trick way back in 1888, Alabama became the first team to go through an entire college football schedule and win every game by at least 20 points this season. To be exact, the Tide won all 12 by margins of 22 points or more.

Three of Alabama’s four non-covers came in backdoor fashion. The other was in a 50-17 win over The Citadel as a 53.5-point home favorite. After leading by only three going into the third quarter vs. Auburn last week, Saban’s team turned it on in the second half and won 52-21 to take the cash as a 25.5-point home ‘chalk.’ The 73 combined points soared ‘over’ the 53-point total.

Tagovailoa completed 25-of-32 passes for 324 yards and five TDs without an interception. He also had 26 rushing yards and one TD on merely four carries. Jerry Jeudy had five receptions for 77 yards and one TD, while Ruggs had five catches for 62 yards and two TDs. Hurts found Jaylen Waddle for a 53-yard TD pass with 9:29 remaining to get ‘Bama ahead of the number, and the defense would blank the Tigers the rest of the way to secure the spread cover.

Tagovailoa is going to win the Heisman Trophy in blowout fashion, and he’ll do despite hardly playing in the fourth quarter all season. In fact, Tagovailoa didn’t take his first snap in the fourth quarter of a game until the trip to Baton Rouge on Nov. 3. Nevertheless, his numbers are off the charts.

Tagovailoa has completed 70.3 percent of his throws for 3,189 yards with a 36/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has 211 rushing yards, five TDs and a 4.7 yards-per-carry average. His favorite target is Juedy, who has 56 receptions for 1,079 yards and 11 TDs. Waddle has 37 catches for 690 yards and six TDs, while Ruggs has 39 grabs for 675 yards and 10 TDs.

Irv Smith Jr. has caught 35 balls for 613 yards and seven TDs, and Devonta Smith has 27 receptions for 498 yards and five TDs. Joshua Jacobs is one of the Tide’s best overall players, catching 15 balls for 171 yards and two TDs. Jacobs, a true junior who thrives on special teams, has rushed for 412 yards and nine TDs with a 4.8 YPC average.

Senior RB Damien Harris has run for a team-best 719 yards, scoring seven TDs while averaging 6.1 YPC. Najee Harris has 664 rushing yards, four TDs and a 6.8 YPC average.

Alabama is ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, ninth at defending the pass, 15th in run defense and third in scoring ‘D’ (13.8 PPG). Quinnen Williams, a sophomore DE, has enjoyed a breakout campaign that has him ranked No. 2 on Mel Kiper’s latest Big Board for the NFL Draft. Williams has recorded 58 tackles, nine tackles for loss, seven sacks, 11 QB hurries and one pass broken up.

Georgia (11-1 SU, 7-5 ATS) won its first six games by 14 points or more. Smart’s club tasted defeat only once, falling 36-16 at LSU as a seven-point road favorite on Oct. 13. Since then, the Bulldogs have ripped off five consecutive wins while going 4-1 ATS. The lone non-cover came in a 66-27 win over UMass as 41-point home favorites.

Every UGA win has come by at least 14 points. Florida briefly led during the third quarter in Jacksonville, only to succumb to a fourth-quarter blitz in Georgia’s 36-17 win as a seven-point ‘chalk.’ The SEC East was on the line in a Nov. 3 trip to Lexington.

Kentucky wasn’t up to the task, though. UGA extended its lead over UK to 14-3 on a 20-yard TD run from D’Andre Swift with 2:28 left in the second quarter. Elijah Holyfield’s four-yard TD dash made it 21-3 early in the third and when Swift took an 83-yard run to the house less than three minutes later, it was basically over midway through the third quarter.

To its credit, UK battled back and cut the deficit to 31-17 with 9:01 remaining, but it would get no closer in a 34-17 setback. UGA took the cash as a 9.5-point road favorite.

Other than a shaky performance at Tiger Stadium in Redstick, Fromm has been rock solid again this season. The sophomore has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 2,236 yards with a 24/5 TD-INT ratio. Hardman has 32 receptions for 519 yards and six TDs, while Riley Ridley has 34 catches for 450 yard and eight TDs.

Swift and Holyfield form an outstanding duo that isn’t much of a downgrade from the Nick Chubb-Sony Michel combo that’s currently thriving in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, respectively. Swift was a little banged up for parts of October, but he’s turned it on of late. The sophomore RB has rushed for 962 yards and nine TDs with a 6.9 YPC average. Meanwhile, Holyfield has 896 rushing yards, seven TDs and a 6.7 YPC average.

UGA is ranked 12th in the country in total defense, 14th in pass defense, 27th at defending the run and 10th in scoring ‘D’ (17.2 PPG). Senior CB Deandre Baker is the catalyst for this unit and, according to Kiper, the second-best corner in the upcoming draft. Kiper has Baker 10th on his latest Big Board, while LSU’s CB Greedy Williams is fifth.

Baker has produced 37 tackles, two interceptions for 82 return yards, two TFL’s, nine PBU and one forced fumble. When he’s lined up across from Jeudy, make sure to tune in because this could be the most important matchup of the game. Another UGA standout on defense is senior LB D’Andre Walker, who has 40 tackles, 6.5 sacks, eight QB hurries, 2.5 TFL’s, three forced fumbles and two PBU.

During Smart’s three-year tenure, Georgia has compiled a 5-2 spread record with three outright victories in seven games as an underdog. This is UGA’s first ‘dog situation of the year.

The ‘over’ is 6-5-1 overall for UGA thanks to a 4-1-1 spree over its past six games. If the number on the total remains close to its current 63.5-point status, it’ll be the third-highest the Bulldogs have seen in 2018. They saw the ‘over’ hit in games at Missouri (43-29) and vs. UMass when the tallies closed at 68 and 66.5 points respectively.

The ‘over’ is 8-4 overall for Alabama after cashing in back-to-back games. This will be its fourth-highest total of the year if it stays above 63 points. The Tide has seen its games average combined scores of 62.8 PPG, while UGA’s contests have played to an average combined score of 57.2 PPG.


SEC Championship History
Year Matchup Line Score ATS Result
2017 Georgia-Auburn Georgia -1.5 (48) Georgia 28-7 Favorite-Under
2016 Alabama-Florida Alabama -23.5 (40.5) Alabama 54-16 Favorite-Over
2015 Alabama-Florida Alabama -17 (38) Alabama 29-15 Underdog-Over
2014 Alabama-Missouri Alabama -14.5 (49) Alabama 42-13 Favorite-Over
2013 Auburn-Missouri Missouri -2 (59.5) Auburn 59-42 Underdog-Over
2012 Alabama-Georgia Alabama -7.5 (51) Alabama 32-28 Underdog-Over
2011 LSU-Georgia LSU -12.5 (46.5) LSU 42-10 Favorite-Over
2010 Auburn-South Carolina Auburn -3.5 (61) Auburn 56-17 Favorite-Over
2009 Alabama-Florida Florida -5 (41) Alabama 32-13 Underdog-Over
2008 Alabama-Florida Florida -10 (54) Florida 31-20 Favorite-Under
2007 LSU-Tennessee LSU -7 (58.5) LSU 21-14 Push-Under
2006 Arkansas-Florida Florida -3 (45) Florida 38-28 Favorite-Over
2005 LSU-Georgia LSU -2.5 (42) Georgia 34-14 Underdog-Over
2004 Auburn-Tennessee Auburn -14.5 (48) Auburn 38-28 Underdog-Over
2003 Georgia-LSU LSU -3 (42) LSU 34-13 Favorite-Over
2002 Arkansas-Georgia Georgia -8 (46) Georgia 30-3 Favorite-Under
2001 LSU-Tennessee Tennessee -7 (54) LSU 31-20 Underdog-Under
2000 Auburn-Florida Florida -9.5 (52.5) Florida 28-6 Favorite-Under
1999 Alabama-Florida Florida -7 (51) Alabama 34-7 Underdog-Under
1998 Tennessee-Miss. State Tennessee -14 (48) Tennessee 24-14 Underdog-Under
1997 Tennessee-Auburn Tennessee -7 (58) Tennessee 30-29 Underdog-Over
1996 Alabama-Florida Florida -14.5 (49.5) Florida 45-30 Favorite-Over
1995 Arkansas-Florida Florida -24 (58) Florida 34-3 Favorite-Under
1994 Alabama-Florida Florida -7 (46) Florida 24-23 Underdog-Over
1993 Alabama-Florida Florida -4 (43.5) Florida 28-13 Favorite-Under
1992 Alabama-Florida Alabama -10 (36.5) Alabama 28-21 Underdog-Over

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The ‘over’ has hit at a 6-1 clip in the past seven Alabama-Georgia meetings dating back to 2002.

--The underdog has covered the spread in five straight head-to-head meetings between ‘Bama and UGA.

--Alabama has won four games in a row over Georgia in this rivalry, but the Bulldogs are 2-2 ATS during this stretch. UGA last tasted victory over the Tide in 2007 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Matthew Stafford’s TD pass in overtime.

--Clemson is 1-5 ATS in six games in which it has been favored by 25.5 points or more this season. As of Friday afternoon, the Tigers were 27.5-point ‘chalk’ vs. Pitt in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

--The latest odds to win the CFP from [...] had Alabama as the -250 ‘chalk.’ The rest of the board looked like this on Friday afternoon: Clemson (+325), Notre Dame (10/1), UGA (14/1), Ohio St. (16/1), Oklahoma (18/1), UCF (500/1).

--The ‘over’ is 11-1 overall for Oklahoma after cashing in eight consecutive games. The Sooners, who lead the nation with their 50.3 PPG average, have seen their past four games net combined scores of 97, 95, 95 and 115 points. They face Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game at Jerry World. The total is 77.5 points.

--Since facing Missouri in its 2008 bowl game, Northwestern has compiled a 13-6 spread record with eight outright victories in 19 games as a double-digit underdog. The Wildcats are 14.5-point 'dogs to Ohio St. in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.