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2021 CFB Playoff National Championship Prediction

Brock Bowers, Georgia

For the second time in half a decade, Alabama and Georgia collide in an all-SEC National Championship. In many ways, the two SEC powers are very alike; both programs have dominated their respective sides of the conference over the past few seasons, both are elite recruiting programs who send waves of players to the NFL every spring, and Georgia's head man, Kirby Smart, is a longtime Nick Saban assistant who led several record-setting defenses in Tuscaloosa. However, there is one clear distinction between the two as they meet up Monday night. Alabama has reached the pinnacle of the college football world multiple times in the last decade-plus, aiming for their seventh National Title since Saban took over. Georgia, on the other hand, has become a program synonymous with getting so close so getting over the top, but finding a way to come up just short. They haven't hoisted a National Title in over four decades and have suffered three distinct, heart-wrenching losses to the Tide in the past decade that all may have cost them a shot at a National Championship. This difference between the two programs puts even more pressure on the Bulldogs to finally finish the job this time around and finish a historical season in Athens.

The top priority for Georgia will be finding a way to slow down the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, Bryce Young, and the rest of this Tide offense. It's pretty remarkable the season that Young has put together, his first season as starting quarterback. He's tallied 4,503 yards and 46 touchdowns through the air, while keeping his turnovers down and completing 68% of his passes. That would be impressive no matter what, but you also have to consider Young has done so with an Alabama offense that has been significantly more crippled than past units. This particular Tide offense is the thinnest they've been at tailback in years and the receiver corps took a massive hit when John Metchie, their No. 2 receiver, was lost for the year with a torn ACL. These injuries have put even more pressure on the shoulders of Young, top receiver Jameson Williams and lead back Brian Robinson Jr., but they've handled it with relative ease. Williams in particular has taken his play up another notch, as he hauled in seven passes for 184 yards and two scores against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. He killed the Bulldogs deep in their last matchup but without Metchie, expect more intermediate and short routes to help open things up. Alabama will still need more than just Williams at receiver, so keep an eye on names like Slade Bolden, JoJo Earle, and Ja'Corey Brooks. Brooks had a big day in the semifinal win over Cincinnati, while Earle is just one of a young group of wide outs looking for their shot. The ground game is in for a challenge against this physical and athletic Georgia defensive front, but Robinson has been a force all season. He isn't the most talented Tide running back of the Saban era, but is the type of hard, punishing runner that Saban covets. Even so, don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien works in backup Trey Sanders early and often. Sanders has still been banged up for much of the season, but his speed and explosiveness can add a different element to this offense, which will be key against a Bulldog linebacker corps that is full of future NFL guys. Just as important, the Tide offensive line has to show up after an up-and-down season. They've been dominant down the stretch, but this is still a group that can occasionally struggle against fast front sevens. It's not just defensive tackle Jordan Davis they have to worry about, but the fact that Georgia loves to strategically blitz these linebackers. Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean, Nolan Smith, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker will come in waves from every different direction. Young is good enough to keep things alive even when the pocket breaks down, but keeping him upright is still going to be of top priority for the Crimson Tide.

As I've mentioned before, Georgia's defense gets all the attention and rightfully so, but this offense has also dealt with injuries all season and still put together one of the best seasons in recent Bulldog history. They've done so with a former walk-on running the show at QB in Stetson Bennett, who is viewed as more of a game manager than anything else, but he's put together an impressive season. Bennett has totaled 2,638 yards and 27 touchdowns and he hasn't been scared of the big moment. There seems to be a perception out there that Bennett isn't good enough to get UGA over the top, but he was far from the issue in the SEC Championship loss, as he passed for 340 yards and three scores. He followed that up by toasting an elite Michigan defense to the tune of 313 yards and three touchdowns. Bennett seems to be playing with more confidence each and every week and any belief that a 5'11", former walk-on can't lead the Bulldogs over the Tide is laughable. Of course, he will need his supporting cast to show up, which includes a trio of productive tailbacks and a deep receiver corps. In the backfield, Zamir White and James Cook will get most of the carries, but expect to also see some of Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton. White is the workhorse option in the backfield, but Cook is the real playmaker that the Tide defense will have to game plan for. At receiver, the Bulldogs have been beaten up all season long, but they're getting healthier at the right time. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers has been one of the most surprising stories of the entire 2021 season with how effective he has been in his first year on campus, but expect receivers Jermaine Burton, Ladd McConkey, and Kearis Jackson to be featured heavily. Much like Bennett, McConkey is the type of player that has been underrated his entire career as a slithery six-feet possession receiver, but he's been one of the most consistent weapons on this roster, while Burton and Jackson are two talented playmakers who can hit the home run ball. I am curious to see how aggressive Todd Monken and Kirby Smart are with the deep ball; they didn't test Alabama's secondary too much in that SEC Championship, but this is a different situation. For one, they have to do something to get Alabama on their toes defensively and also, the Tide are banged up at the corner spot, as they went down their top two corners in the semifinal win. Stetson Bennett might not have the prettiest deep ball in college football, but he made some awfully impressive throws against Michigan and should be ready for his chances. Up front, the Bulldogs have the edge over Alabama in terms of offensive line play, but they also face a brutal pass rush that includes superstar Will Anderson. Anderson might be the best player on the field and is the betting favorite to be the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, so anything the Bulldogs can do to neutralize him will be important. One more thing to consider with this Georgia offense is George Pickens, who may be the ultimate wild card of the entire game. Pickens is Georgia's most naturally gifted pass-catcher but a torn ACL in the spring has limited him to very little playing time. He first came back in the rivalry win over Georgia Tech and also caught a pair of passes against Alabama in their last meeting. Don't expect to see him on the field every down but if he can continue to see his role expand, this UGA offense becomes even more dangerous.

Some college football fans may be frustrated that the sport's pinnacle game of the 2021 campaign will come down to a pair of familiar SEC foes, but there are enough storylines to keep fans engaged and excited for the entire four quarters. Alabama's ability to weather a storm of injuries and the rollercoaster ride of the season just confirms the program's elite status and Saban's coaching pedigree. Managing to win a National Title with arguably their weakest team in over a decade would only further cement them as perhaps the greatest dynasty in the sport's long history. Georgia has risen to the ranks of elite in the college football universe, but taking the next step and winning a National Title has proven to be extremely elusive. Is this the year, and the team, to finally rid the program of their demons and reach the mountaintop? There's no better opportunity to get the monkey off their back then beating a familiar rival in the National Championship Game.

The last meeting between these two teams in the SEC Championship Game proved to be a decisive Alabama victory, but I have a feeling that this game will be different. Not only are the stakes higher, but the Bulldogs have had more time to prepare for the mighty Crimson Tide and are healthier than they were several weeks ago. Picking against Nick Saban and Alabama is something I never like to do and they've made me look like a fool on numerous occasions. However, I truly believe that this year's Georgia team is different. It's not just the product they put on the field, but the energy and attitude around the program feels completely different. It really feels like this could be a turning point for Georgia football, and the time is now. I'm picking the Bulldogs to hoist their first National Title since 1980.

The Pick: Georgia, 28 Alabama, 24

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