ATLANTA -- No. 1 Georgia can extend its all-time SEC record for consecutive wins to 30 on Saturday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the toughest test of the Bulldogs dynasty yet waits in No. 8 Alabama. This will be a 60-minute battle between a program looking to extend its reign of dominance and one that has, on this rare occasion, fallen just outside of the upper-most rung of the college football hierarchy.
Despite its pristine record, Georgia has come out on the right side of some close calls. It needed a late Brock Bowers touchdown to escape the clutches of Auburn earlier this season. The win over Ohio State in last year's Peach Bowl national semifinal came down to a missed Buckeyes field goal in the waning seconds. It topped an average Missouri team last season in one of the sloppiest games of the Kirby Smart era.
The big one, however was the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama. That thriller came down to the wire before Bowers and former defensive back Kelee Ringo iced the game away for the Bulldogs' first national title since 1980. The Tide were led by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, Biletnikoff Award winner Jameson Williams stretching the field deep, fellow 1,000-yard receiver John Metchie III helping him out and 1,300-yard back Brian Robinson taking the handoffs.
Current quarterback Jalen Milroe is more than just an effective quarterback, but he's no Bryce Young. The wide receivers aren't close to the 2021 group, and this year's running back-by-committee approach pales in comparison to what they had two seasons ago.
The one thing that the 2023 Crimson Tide team has that the 2021 version didn't: Desperation.
The Crimson Tide dynasty may feel like a thing of the past, but a win over Georgia could set the foundation for another one to close out the Nick Saban era. Smart knows that the way that Alabama has progressed from the start of the year to Game 12 has been a remarkable journey, and one of the most impressive coaching jobs of his mentor's career.
"He does it with different formats of teams," Smart said on Sunday. "I think just like us, every team has a different identity ... It's a different identity than previous years. They certainly have talented players. They got talented players all over the place on the offense and defensive line. Their line of scrimmages are big and physical, which that always is an identity of an Alabama team. You know that. But this one has been very unique. They play really hard. They play well together. They respond for each other. They've been in some tight ball games, made some big-time comebacks in games."
Saban thinks about that 33-18 loss to Georgia on January 10, 2022 often, adding to the revenge factor heading into this one.
"I think we were at 18-13 with, I don't know, 10 or 11 minutes to go in the game. They just outplayed us tremendously in the last 10, 11 minutes of the game," Saban said on Monday. "You always want to be able to finish. We lost on the last play of the game to Clemson way back when. I felt like I should have called timeout and didn't. So there's always things that haunt you when you don't have success."
This Alabama team has its back against the wall. It struggled against a remarkably average Auburn team last week and can't afford a loss in the race for the CFP. However, it has enough of an upside to rip the mighty Bulldogs off of their pedestal and show the world that they dynasty was left in Indianapolis nearly two years ago is still simmering below the surface.
Does Mike Elko fit at Texas A&M?
The Mark Stoops era at Texas A&M lasted all of two hours as rumors ripped across social media on Saturday night suggesting that the Kentucky coach was on his way to College Station, Texas. While Stoops would have been awesome at Texas A&M considering its wealth of resources and NIL support in comparison to Kentucky's, Elko provides a lot of the same attributes. He brings all of the same hard-nosed characteristics, which is what the program needs. He's a program-builder who can get multiple parties to coalesce around a shared vision. As a program often overshadowed by basketball, the Blue Devils achieved rare heights under Elko.
Elko's lack of head coaching experience makes him a little risky. However, it's nice to see Texas A&M go after true football coaches who can transform the culture into one of hard work and accountability rather than pursuing the flashiest hire.
What about Jeff Lebby at Mississippi State?
Lebby is a fantastic offensive coordinator who has had success pretty much everywhere he has been. Unlike Mike Leach, though, Lebby is an unknown commodity and far from a legend who changed the landscape of college football. The SEC will add Texas and Oklahoma next year and eliminate divisions in the conference's most significant change since 2012. How patient is the Mississippi State administration going to be with Lebby after firing Zach Arnett so quickly? Lebby can scheme with the best of them, but this is a difficult job for a first-time head coach.
- Ole Miss
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Mississippi State
SEC Championship Game Pick
Straight up: 95-16 | Against the spread: 46-48-3
*Picks use SportsLine consensus odds and were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered started in Week 2
Alabama vs. Georgia -6 (in Atlanta): The Bulldogs are an absolute machine, and that machine will crank itself up in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line ranks sixth in sacks allowed -- fewer than one a game -- and No. 11 nationally in tackles for loss allowed (3.92). That offensive line will hold up against the Crimson Tide, and expect running back Kendall Milton to put up his third 100-yard game in the last four. If Auburn can have success on the ground vs. the Tide without the threat of a passing game, the Bulldogs should be able to at least match that effort.
Speaking of the passing attack, the week off for tight end Brock Bowers and wide receiver Ladd McConkey vs. Georgia Tech will allow quarterback Carson Beck to take pressure off of Milton and Co. and balance one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe will do enough to make it a game in the fourth quarter, but Georgia will force Milroe into a late mistake or two and move on to its third straight CFP appearance. Pick: Georgia -6
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