Can Georgia beat Alabama? Sorry, Dawgs. We're not so sure
It’s funny how quickly sports fans jump ahead.
We’re guilty, too. We’ve already concluded that Georgia and Alabama will meet in Atlanta on Dec. 2 in the SEC Championship Game. The comparisons started last week and have dominated headlines this week.
Never mind we have two months to go and both have plenty of opportunities to stumble.
Two weeks ago, I penciled in Georgia at 7-0 when it travels to face Florida in Jacksonville, and still unbeaten when it visits The Plains on Nov. 11.
I also wrote two weeks ago that Alabama and Georgia should be two of the four Playoff teams (along with Clemson and Oklahoma). Granted, that was part of my weekly overreactions, but it was only a mild one; Georgia was still outside the Top 10 at the time.
So let the Big Ten have October and November. Let’s just skip ahead to the game everybody wants to see: Georgia vs. Alabama. Protege vs. Mentor.
Is there any chance Georgia wins? That’s something we’ve been discussing all week.
Clint Lamb, Alabama beat writer: At this point, Georgia isn’t quite ready to compete with Alabama. That doesn’t mean they can’t beat the Tide, but Alabama is on one of the most dominant runs in college football history.
There are actually some strong similarities between Alabama’s rise to overthrow Florida back in late 2000s and Georgia trying to get to that point now.
If you look back at 2008, Alabama was well on its way to establishing itself as the SEC’s most prominent program, but it wasn’t ready yet. The Tide made it to the SEC Championship Game in Nick Saban’s second year, but they lost 31-20 to a Tim Tebow-led Gators team. Fast forward to a year later in 2009, and it was a much different story when Alabama got its revenge with a 32-13 victory.
Ironically, this is Kirby Smart’s second season at Georgia.
With the Bulldogs’ offense now being led by true freshman QB Jake Fromm, they’re showing improvement week-to-week, but I still think they’re a year away from being able to compete with Alabama.
Connor O’Gara, senior national columnist: “Can” and “will” are two very different things. To sit here in the first week of October and declare that Georgia will beat Alabama is obviously a bit premature. To sit here in the first week of October and declare that Georgia can beat Alabama is not.
I’m a believer that this Bulldogs team is different than the ones of recent memory that seem to have that inexplicable letdown. A lot of that has to do with Kirby Smart’s defense. Just as he did at Alabama, he’s got some dudes to work with. With guys like Roaquan Smith and Trenton Thompson, the Bulldogs are absolutely capable of going toe-to-toe with a team like Alabama.
Jake Fromm makes the smart decisions and the ground game looks powerful, just as we expected it do. Would they have a tough time getting going against Alabama? Sure, but with Georgia’s defense, it wouldn’t take 45 points to beat the Tide.
I’m not saying that Alabama and Georgia would split a 10-game series. In fact, Alabama might win eight out of 10 times. But based on what we’ve seen in 2017 — don’t give me some stat from the Mark Richt era — why can’t the Bulldogs beat Alabama in a one-game scenario at a neutral site?
Jon Cooper, director of operations: Not yet, but it wouldn’t be lopsided. The formula is clear: QBs have to play the game of their life against Alabama. Jake Fromm has been very efficient, but he’s not at that level yet. However, everything else is in place to give Alabama a really good game. An elite defense that will keep the Tide from scoring many points; a good running and a deep threat to stretch the field.
For UGA to beat Alabama, it would have to hope the Tide can help beat itself. That’s just the reality of the Alabama program in its current state, unless you have a Deshaun Watson or Johnny Manziel-type player at QB.
The talent gap isn’t very big, believe it or not. UGA is loaded. Still, the QB position would be the reason I would say Alabama would beat Georgia at this point.
Adam Spencer, Georgia writer: Though Georgia is certainly on the right track, I’m not quite willing to put the Dawgs on Alabama’s level just yet.
One key difference is the quarterback position, where the Tide have one of the SEC’s best in Jalen Hurts. Fromm and Jacob Eason are solid, but neither is a top-five quarterback in the conference. Both squads have loaded backfields, but Hurts is a difference maker, and that would be a huge advantage for Alabama in a potential SEC Championship Game.
Also, let’s not forget that Nick Saban is 11-0 against his former assistants. Kirby Smart will eventually get a win over his former boss, but there’s just something about preparing for a Saban-coached team that takes some getting used to.
The Bulldogs are coming for the Tide, but they’re still a year or two away. That said, if the two teams meet in Atlanta, it will likely be the toughest competition Alabama faces all year.
Chris Wright, executive editor: I know it plays one on TV, but Alabama is not a machine, a’ight?
You can argue that this defense is as vulnerable as any Saban has had in the past five years. Vulnerable is relative, of course.
I gave Washington zero chance in the semifinal last year because I didn’t see any scenario in which its capable pocket passer, Jake Browning, would have time to set his feet, scan and deliver against that front four. I wrote that Clemson would beat Alabama in the title game because its superstar quarterback, Deshaun Watson, would make enough plays.
This Tide defense? It’s not last year’s defense. It’s talented, but it’s not the game-plan wrecker of years’ past. That alone gives a great team a chance, especially one as diversified as the Dawgs.
Will it matter? Maybe not. Not unless the Tide’s injuries keep mounting.
But this is clearly the East’s best chance since 2012, when Georgia came within a tipped pass of dethroning Saban. The 2015 national championship team only beat Florida by 14 — and that Florida team in no way, shape or formation had the offensive firepower that these Dawgs have.
Confession: I root for the best story. So give me Georgia, 31-28. And if the Dawgs fall short and I’m wrong, I’ll borrow a page from Lewis Grizzard, a great American, who wrote this classic after the Dawgs lost to Georgia Tech in 1984: Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it.