Alabama, Georgia follow same blueprint to college football title game

Monday’s college football playoff national championship game between Alabama and Georgia is a study in similarity. The two Southeastern Conference foes are built behind the same philosophy: honed by Alabama coach Nick Saban and implemented in Georgia by former Saban assistant Kirby Smart. Both teams have a run-focused offense and a stifling defense filled with players ready to make an impact on the NCAA’s biggest stage and perhaps make the leap to the NFL.

The national championship game is familiar territory to Alabama, which has been college football’s most consistently excellent team under Saban. The Crimson Tide have appeared in all four college football playoffs, advancing to the title game in each of the last three years. They lost to Clemson in last year’s championship game, but avenged that defeat by eliminating Clemson in the Sugar Bowl to clinch a spot on Monday’s final. Alabama’s victory over Clemson showcased a much healthier Crimson Tide defense than the unit that finished the regular season with a loss to Auburn, limiting Clemson to just two field goals.

Georgia’s defense was pushed to the limit in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, allowing a season-high 48 points to an offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, but the Bulldogs were saved by their run game. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 326 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns against Oklahoma, including the game-winner by Michel on a 27-yard run in double-overtime. Chubb and Michel have been a formidable duo in Georgia’s backfield all season, with both running backs rushing for more than 1,000 yards.

Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings is out of Monday’s game after undergoing knee surgery, but Alabama is still considered the favourite among bettors heading into the contest. In terms of quarterback play, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are both capable passers, but their talents are outweighed by the strength of each team’s pass defense. The Crimson Tide have Minkah Fitzpatrick lurking in the secondary while Georgia can turn to Deandre Baker or Dominick Sanders. But the standout on the Bulldogs’ defense is linebacker Roquan Smith, who has been impossible for opponents to contain and should cause havoc in Alabama’s backfield throughout the title game.

Regardless of who wins in Atlanta on Monday, their claim to the national championship will be disputed by the only undefeated team in the 2017 college football season: the University of Central Florida. UCF ran the table in the American Athletic Conference but was left out of the playoff due to the perceived weakness of its schedule, which didn’t feature any games against a ranked opponent from a power conference. But UCF made a statement by defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, topping an SEC opponent that had earned regular-season wins over both title game participants, and the Knights used this victory to make their own claim to the national title, even going so far as to celebrate with a parade at Disney World.