The BarnBurner’s 2017 National Championship Preview

Alabama and Georgia are set to clash Monday in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC National Championship, just a little over a month after the Dawgs beat Auburn in that same stadium. It is just the second time that two conference opponents will meet in the national championship game (Alabama beat LSU in 2011), and there is nowhere more fitting for two SEC teams to duke it out than the South’s new football Mecca. Despite Georgia’s arguably more impressive resume, Vegas opened with Alabama a -3.5 favorite on the heels of a very impressive Clemson win in which Bama held the Tigers to only 188 yards of offense including just 64 on the ground. That same stat will likely be the deciding factor on Monday as Georgia will live and die behind their 8th in the nation run offense. The BarnBurner is here to give our insights on the game, what to watch for, and who will likely leave Atlanta as champs.

Key Matchup: Alabama’s Run Defense vs. Georgia’s Run Offense

Georgia likes to run the ball and it’s no secret why. Their 267.4 rushing yards per game was 8th in the country this season and 1st in the SEC, largely due to their two absolute studs at running back in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb who combined for 326 yards in Georgia’s epic comeback win against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. Alabama’s run defense, meanwhile, was second in the nation, allowing just 94.1 yards per game. As Heath Ledger once said, this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, except in this case, something has to give. If Georgia can’t establish the run, expect Alabama to grind out another win. If they can establish the ground game, it will be up to Alabama’s offense to outscore them – something Oklahoma, even with Baker Mayfield, couldn’t do.

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Georgia Player to Watch: Jacob Fromm

Georgia needs Michel and Chubb to get their stats if they are going to have any chance to win. However, the most important player for Georgia is going to be freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. This is a huge stage for a freshman, but Fromm didn’t show any signs of the stage being too big for him against Oklahoma. Georgia doesn’t need Fromm to be great, but they absolutely need him to protect the ball and make plays when called upon. Alabama is going to focus heavily on stopping the Dawgs’ ground attack, meaning Fromm will probably asked to do more than Georgia fans would like. If he can move the chains in passing situations and avoid interceptions, Georgia’s ground game can do the rest.

Alabama Player to Watch: Da’Ron Payne

In addition to being a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, Da’Ron Payne moonlights as an All-SEC defensive lineman. With the crux of this game being the battle between Georgia’s rushing attack and Alabama’s defense, defensive line play will be the most important aspect for the Tide. Payne is a 300-pound behemoth with the type of athleticism that should not be allowed in a man his size. Expect him to have a big hand in blowing up the Dawgs’ ground game if the Tide are able to establish dominance on that front. If Payne and his unit aren’t able to do so, Alabama could be in trouble.

Prediction: 24-13 Alabama

I hope I’m wrong, but after watching what Alabama did to Clemson, I’m expecting a somewhat boring national championship game from a scoring standpoint. The Tide looked like an absolute defensive juggernaut against the Tigers and, while Georgia’s run game is better than Clemson’s, I still don’t expect Georgia to have a great deal more success moving the ball. Alabama’s offense is nothing overly special, but key defensive stops and field position will allow the Tide to put up enough points to win comfortably. If Georgia’s backs can find some running room, we might see something a whole lot more exciting. However, I just don’t see it happening and I’m predicting a 24-13 Alabama win for Nick Saban’s 48th 6th title.

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