Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
2019 Record: 11-2, 6-2 in SEC play, which was good for second place in the SEC West. That’s respectable in most any other place except for Alabama.
Head Coach: Nick Saban. Following the 2006 season, the Crimson Tide was seeking a new head coach. After a stretch that included Rich Rod saying no to Alabama and a highly notable analysis in Shreveport about stopping the inside trap by Joe Kines, Nick Saban was lured away from South Beach. It’s been all downhill for everyone else since then.
Home Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (capacity: 101.821)
Alumnus of Note: Forrest Gump, Harper Lee, Jim Nabors - aka, Gomer Pyle
Tua Tagavailoa, whose season a year ago was cut short due to injury, has departed, but that’s hardly a reason for defensive coordinators to celebrate. Mac Jones replaced him down the stretch, passing for 1,500 yards. His backup, because that’s apparently notable against Alabama, is Bryce Young, a true freshman.
As was seen in those final games last year, Jones will have a pretty stout supporting cast. Najee Harris is back and showed an ability to carry the heavy load late in games last year, and his durability is also backed up via 1,200 yards on the ground last season. Toss in Trey Sanders, Keilan Robinson and Brian Robinson, and there is a pretty good stable of backs for the Crimson Tide as always. Big physical receivers? Bama still has them, even with Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy no longer on campus. The group starts with Devonta Smith with a few others included Jaylen Waddle and Xavier Williams. Factor this talent in with UNC transfer Carl Tucker at tight end, and Alabama should have no problem moving the ball.
If there’s a weak point for the Crimson Tide, it’s not the offensive line. With three possible NFL selections having returned, this may be the best o-line in the country. Evan Neal started every game last year as a freshman at left tackle, and four other seniors fill out the rest of this group - Chris Owens at center, Deonte Brown and Landon Dickerson at guard and Alec Leatherwood at the other tackle spot.
Last year’s group posted a plus-18 turnover differential and gave up an averaged of 10.8 yards per play, the best total in the past seven years on that side of the ball. You expect any Nick Saban team to be very good on defense, and this year figures to be no different. Losing only Raekwon Davis off last year’s defensive line does not hurt those odds, giving Bama among the best defensive line units nationally, as well.
Dylan Moses is among the nation’s best at linebacker. Shane Lee and Christian Harris, who were rushed into duty quicker than expected last year, give this group an even bigger leg up.
If there’s an area of inexperience, it’s the secondary where Patrick Surtain is the only returning starter at the cornerback position. Look for DeMarrco Hellams to be in line the play a good bit at the other corner spot with Jordan Battle and Jalyn Armour-Davis at the safety slots.
Without sounding too much like hero worship, anytime you go against Nick Saban, you are going against the greatest of this generation. To win, you need very few things going wrong - looking at you, Big Ten officials and players being onside....
Steve Sarkisian is back to run the offense. His ability to continue to develop Mac Jones may be the difference between him being at Alabama long-term or being suggested to seek other coaching opportunities before the bowl game.
The Bottom Line
As long as Saban is at Alabama, it will also be the one hurdle Georgia has to get over. Even if Georgia wins a national title, to some outside Athens, the season would be tainted if it did not include a win over the Crimson Tide.
Until Kirby Smart can beat Saban and become the first former Saban assistant to beat him, the Alabama anvil will always, always be there.
And if that happens, Finebaum on the next Monday will be legendary, especially if callers like Phyllis call in .
Simply stated, it’s the game of the year of the regular season, college football speaking. The lack of fans does take the home field edge away a good bit, but Georgia and Todd Monken’s offense still has to, with a quarterback with a lack of spring practice in the offense, confront a defense on the same level of its own.
Frankly, I can see Georgia losing this one but winning the one that counts in Atlanta in December.
28-17, Crimson Tide.