Alabama or Georgia for No. 1? Let's compare them
If you tuned in Saturday afternoon in hopes that Alabama and Georgia would look vulnerable at home against a pair of top-15 teams, well, you left the day being disappointed.
The Tide and Dawgs reminded everyone that there’s absolutely a gap at the top of the food chain. It’s Alabama and Georgia, then everyone else. Or Georgia and Alabama, then everyone else. It depends how you want to look at it.
I wanted to look at it from an objective viewpoint. If we’re going to answer a question that really won’t have an answer until both teams inevitably face off in Atlanta, we’d better consider more than 1 factor.
For example, it would be nearsighted to say, “it can’t be Georgia because we Stetson Bennett IV is the current starter.” We must look bigger. It’s past (résumé), present (who would win tomorrow) and future (who can still get better).
So I decided to take a side-by-side look at a few factors that could determine who the better team is.
It’s early, but let’s chop this up in a couple of different ways. There are wins based on what teams were at the time of the matchups and there are wins based on what teams are now.
For now, here’s how that breaks down:
So now you see why this is still a difficult thing to decipher. On one hand, Georgia got all the credit for that Clemson win, and if you don’t want to look at current polls, it’s the most impressive win for either team. But now that the Tigers are out of the Top 25, that win doesn’t carry the same weight as what Alabama did at Florida and vs. Ole Miss. That’s probably why Georgia only got 9 first-place votes in the AP Poll. Then again, Alabama’s Miami win hasn’t exactly held up, either.
Here’s another thing worth considering — what’s the combined record of Power 5 opponents for both teams so far?
Alabama’s Power 5 opponents are a combined 8-6 while Georgia’s are a combined 12-8. That’s basically the same.
The place where Alabama’s résumé has an advantage on Georgia’s is the fact that the Tide won a true road game against a current Top 25 Florida team. For now, that probably pushes that part of the debate in favor of Alabama.
But this weekend, Georgia will travel to Auburn to face a Top 25 Auburn team. If the Dawgs win, Auburn might actually stay in the Top 25 as a 2-loss team because those games were against a pair of current top-4 teams. If the Tigers can play a 60-minute game against Georgia, that’ll help that cause. Shoot, if Auburn scores a touchdown against Georgia, that’d be a major flex.
That leads us to the next part of this discussion.
Let’s be clear. What Alabama did to Ole Miss’ No. 1 offense was a remarkable bounce-back after Florida’s ground game got rolling in those final 3 quarters in Gainesville a few weeks ago. You cannot give enough credit to Will Anderson, Christian Harris, Henry To’o To’o and Co. for totally flipping the script not just on the Florida game, but also on Ole Miss’ 2020 showing against the Tide.
But don’t get it twisted. Georgia has the better defense, and it’s not really up for debate.
The Dawgs allowed 1 offensive touchdown in the first 5 games. This argument starts and ends with that stat.
If you want, we can turn on clip after clip of Georgia totally perplexing a respected Arkansas offensive line.
Nakobe Dean might be the best blitzer in the country. Times the snap to perfection and shoots out of a cannon across Stromberg’s face and gets under him. pic.twitter.com/UyGsVP2wMb
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) October 4, 2021
I have been on the Devonte Wyatt train longer than anyone I can remember. and here he gets home for the sack forcing 3rd and very long for Arkansas on their opening possession. pic.twitter.com/oAK45aoAx2
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) October 3, 2021
Jordan Davis continues to ascend draft boards. pic.twitter.com/IpToRNQi1n
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) October 3, 2021
I’m old enough to remember a time when Georgia’s secondary was going to be an Achilles heel. Apparently, when you win every 1-on-1 matchup up front and you’ve got linebackers getting clean shots on perfectly timed blitzes, secondaries don’t matter quite as much.
But just so you don’t think I’m biased because I find myself glued to the television when Georgia’s front steps on the field, here’s the side-by-side comparison (excludes non-offensive TDs):
I know there might be some push-back from Alabama fans who would argue that the Tide faced more talented offenses. If you break it down, yes, Alabama has faced better offenses. But that’s basically because of Ole Miss, which ranks No. 5 in FBS (it was No. 1 pre-Alabama). That’s the only top-50 offense that faced either Alabama or Georgia through 5 games.
It’s also pretty hard to be a top-50 offense when 1/5 of your schedule is against Georgia. In fact, Arkansas’ No. 70 offense is the best the Dawgs have faced so far.
Still, though. Those numbers are too ridiculous not to give Georgia the edge there.
I hear ya, Alabama fans. Talk about the offenses. You knew I was getting there.
Through 5 games, that’s a fairly open and shut case with who has been the better offense (excluding non-offensive touchdowns):
Of course, we really haven’t seen a whole lot of JT Daniels yet. Think about it. He played the whole Clemson game, the vast majority of the South Carolina game and then he was out there for a quarter against Vandy. We’ve essentially gotten 2-plus games of what Georgia’s offense could be, and half of that sample size was against an elite Clemson defense (don’t sleep on how good the Tigers’ defense is).
Alabama’s offense might have the advantage even with a healthy Daniels. There’s no denying who has the advantage if we’re talking about Bryce Young vs. Stetson Bennett IV.
Georgia’s only offensive advantage against Alabama is in the ground game. Alabama, who just loss Jase McClellan, doesn’t have a ton of backfield depth. At least not compared to Georgia. Zamir White, James Cook, Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh are all averaging at least 7 scrimmage touches per game. But if the Tide are going to get performances from Brian Robinson like Saturday’s showing against Ole Miss, depth isn’t going to matter a whole lot.
Robinson, combined with Young’s stellar play, is capable of leading one of the nation’s top offenses. Alabama already showed it can beat quality competition in multiple ways. Go figure that in the Tide’s 2 biggest wins, the offense didn’t muster a play of 30-plus yards. In other words, this Alabama offense could actually be getting better.
So then what matchup would be the difference-maker if they played tomorrow?
There are a lot of ways to answer that. For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that Daniels is healthy. There really is no argument in favor of Georgia if it’s Bennett at quarterback. He’s serviceable, but we know he’s not good enough to take down a team like Alabama.
The biggest strength on either side of the ball for these teams is that Georgia front. Hence, why the biggest mismatch would be the Georgia defensive line against Alabama’s offensive line.
As encouraging as the Ole Miss game was, the Tide are still a bit of a work in progress up front. They aren’t “impose their will” levels of good. Robinson got going in part because of them, but half of his yards came after first contact. The man ran like a dude possessed en route to SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Most missed tackles forced on runs in Week 5
1. Bijan Robinson, Texas – 15
2. Brian Robinson Jr, Alabama – 11 pic.twitter.com/OSS0xi9yFR
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 3, 2021
I’d still push back on the belief that Alabama could run the ball between the tackles like that against Georgia. Nobody is pushing Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Jalen Carter around. Given what we saw against an experienced Florida front, I think Alabama’s offensive line would be a bit overmatched in a showdown with the Dawgs.
Where’s the area in which a healthy Georgia team could be at a significant disadvantage? If for some reason, the Dawgs can’t get home with their pressure and Young could consistently buy time with his legs, yes, I could see the Tide capitalizing on Georgia’s secondary. Of course, that’s a major “if.” Teams are going to try to get rid of the ball quicker and quicker against Georgia’s defense because of how dangerous that pass rush is.
That’s why if you’re asking me to pick a No. 1 right now, I’d go with Georgia. It isn’t by much, and I do know that the offenses they’ll see will get better. It’s just tough to see a weakness right now. It’s easier to see this team getting better by virtue of getting healthy in the passing game. And to be fair, Alabama will continue to get better. That’s a scary thought, too. I mean, 3 of those first 5 games were against top-15 teams.
Maybe we’ll see Auburn go 60 minutes with Georgia and we’ll have a feeling similar to the narrative after Alabama escaped Florida with a win. I wouldn’t rule it out, given the way this year has gone so far across the country.
What’s clear is that currently, Alabama and Georgia are undoubtedly the 2 best teams in America. If anyone halts their path to a national championship, it’ll be as impressive as any win this year.
Just don’t hold your breath on that.